Eight-Passenger Light Van pulled over right in front of the Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital in Sagaing Hills. It was cool soft winter Sunday morning on 21 December 2014 and the thin fog enveloped the surrounding and its environment and also over the large green trees. The Wachet Hospital is situated on the western bank of the Mighty Ayeyawady in Sagaing Region of Upper Myanmar.
We travelled from Yangon to Sagaing by public transport express bus on Saturday night and arrived at Sagaing bus terminal the following morning. A light van from the hospital was waiting and carried us to the destination.
The WJSH was first established as a small dispensary for the local villagers in 1984 getting up and standing up high out of a dilapidated and collapsed Zayat — wayside public rest house built on a sacred premise — by venerable monk of Kyaswa Religious Retreat Dr. Ashin Lakkhana through the collective efforts of well-wishers. A very small dispensary in the remote hills has developed into a modest hospital due to the ardent and tireless efforts of the Buddhist monks, doctors, well-wishers and the local populace.
The hospital is treating patients from all walks of life especially the marginalized, vulnerable and poor patients. The hospital charges a nominal fee to those who could afford, and treated free of charge to poor patients.
The hospital is funded by well-wishers across the country and managed by two committees namely the Lower Myanmar Wachet Hospital Supervisory and Logistic Committee and the Upper Myanmar WHS and LC. Retired Director of Finance and Revenue Daw Myint Myint Kyi of Yangon is working as dynamic Honorary Secretary for Lower Myanmar EC, and private entrepreneur U Myint Soe of Sagaing is handling the Secretary portfolio of Upper Myanmar EC.
On our arrival, Medical Superintendent of the hospital Dr. U Win Kyaing warmly welcomed me and my family members under the portico of the hospital. He is a retired MS of 200-bed government hospital in Taninthayi Region and joined the philanthropic hospital in May 2012 after his retirement. He is a nice man working heart and soul for the smooth functioning of the hospital.
With much enthusiasm, he explained the treatment schedule for eye patients from 21 to 26 December 2014. He praised the Good Samaritan ophthalmologists as they were not going to take a break even on Christmas Holiday the 25th of December.
We were accommodated in two rooms earmarked for the patients on the third floor. It was my fourth visit to WJSH for follow up treatment on my problematic left eye. The awkward, tricky and sticky eye trouble started with the simple cataract removal and intraocular lens (IOL) implant on my left eye at a local eye clinic in Yangon in April 2013, which developed into eye infection and haunted me with multiple nuisances for nearly two years.
As my long journey in quest of eye treatment involved the venues such as Yangon – Singapore – Sydney and finally Wachet in Sagaing Hills, I decided to write a separate article on my bitter experiences of recurring nightmare.
I took a short rest in the patient’s room of the hospital.
At noon time, accountant of the hospital Miss Aye Khaing Moe came to my room and informed me that Dr. Kwon has just arrived Wachet Hospital from the Mandalay/TadaU Airport. He travelled a long way from Sydney to Yangon, and then to Mandalay.
I first met Dr. Kwon at Marsden Eye Specialists at 152 Marsden Street Parramatta NSW 2150 near Sydney in quest of eye treatment in August 2013.
At this juncture, it is my honour to introduce Dr. Kwon. His full name is Dr. Hyong Kwon Kang,
MBBS, B.Sc. (Med), FRANZCO MEDICAL & SURGICAL RETINA. Dr Kang attended medical school at the University of Sydney, where he also attained a Bachelor of Science degree with the University Medal. He completed ophthalmology training at Prince of Wales Hospital and pursued a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery and medical retina at Southampton University Hospital in UK, where he also worked as a consultant in 2005 and 2006.
Dr Kang has been active in research into retinal vein occlusion, macular degeneration and macular hole, and published numerous papers in major international journals. He routinely performs surgery for retinal detachment, macular hole, epiretinal membrane and diabetic retinopathy. He participates in rural ophthalmology as a visiting consultant at Broken Hill Base Hospital. He has been involved in a volunteer ophthalmology programme in Myanmar since 2003.
Later, I learnt that Dr. Kwon is visiting twice a year to WJSH since 2003 and visited three times each in 2013 and 2014. Immediately after arrival, Dr. Kwon inspected the recently renovated Operation Theatre-2 and Operation Theater-3. He said that he preferred the renovation of OT-2 being revamped at the cost of Myanmar kyat 25 million.
He is the lone foreign ophthalmologist at this recent trip for 22-27 December which was assisted by Professor Dr. Daw Yee Yee Aung and Dr. U Saw Htoo Set, both from Mandalay Eye Hospital. Professor Dr. Daw Yee Yee Aung joined the Wachet Hospital in early 2013 and has a host of eye patients as she is a very kind hearted doctor. Dr. U Saw Htoo Set has been working for the Wachet Hospital since 2004 dedicated his heart and soul for the eye patients, especially for the poor.
Over the years, the month of December is allocated for the team that undertakes Myanmar Eye Care Program (MECP) with the coordinator Dr. Geoff Cohn.
The Myanmar Eye Care Program (MECP) is led by Sydney-based ophthalmologist Dr Geoff Cohn. Every couple of months or three to four trips each year, Dr Cohn and a dedicated team of about 40 Australian medical eye specialists, technicians and support staff, self-fund their trips to Myanmar and volunteer their time to provide treatment to 30,000 people each year. They treat eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma and provide essential equipment for ophthalmic surgery. Importantly, the program helps train native ophthalmic personnel to operate independently, which enables them to continue the work when the Australian team returns home. The aim of the MECP is to reduce the prevalence of preventable
and avoidable blindness in the rural areas of Myanmar by developing a high quality, locally staffed, self-sustaining and efficient eye care health system by 2020.
It was learnt that Dr. Cohn is preoccupied with the earlier commitment of Cambodia visit at this time of the year. With a view to fill the wide open space of December 2014, Dr. Kwon alone rushed in to treat the eye patients, who were in dire need of foreign ophthalmologist.
Aim and objective of his visit was (1) Assessment of Sterilization and (2) Supervision of Vitreoretinal Surgery. Sterilization of the operation theaters is an important protocol to improve the health standards in the hospital and to prevent surgical infections.
The eye treatment program for December 2014 was not publicized to the public as many eye patients were already registered. Those were the patients who have not been treated during the previous visit of Surgery and Vitreoretinal Disease Treatment. Certain number of eye patients from Mandalay Eye Hospital was also in the waiting list.
Working in a straight long stretch, Dr. Kwon, Professor Dr. Daw Yee Aung and Dr. U Saw Htoo Sett stepped into the Out Patient Department (Eye) at the ground floor in the afternoon of 21 December and examined the patients who were waiting in the long queue. The three eye surgeons assisted by skilled nurses quickly but carefully examined the eye patients to diagnose the disease and serializing for priority during the 22-26 December working days.
Ideally, the eye examination consists of an external examination, followed by specific tests for visual acuity, pupil function, extra ocular muscle motility, visual fields, intraocular pressure and ophthalmoscope through a dilated pupil.
A minimal eye examination consists of tests for visual acuity, pupil function, and extra ocular muscle motility, as well as direct ophthalmoscope through an undilated pupil.
On the first day, 21 December 2014, there was no eye operation. The examination of (87) vitreoretinal eye patients was carried out and the voluminous task ended at 8:00 pm.
The team members in small groups came up one after another from the ground floor to the third floor towards the dining hall passing through the corridor facing the Mighty Ayeyawaddy. The cool winter breeze was blowing from across the water with no moon in the sky on the first day of Myanmar month “Pyar Tho”, and the dark blue sky hovered all over the area.
The three ophthalmologists, skilled nurses and other staff members seemed exhausted physically, but their facial expression was fresh as a daisy under the bright neon light on the third floor.
They exchanged views over the dining table and called it the day, as the first day’s work has been completed.
Non-stop work continued the following day.
On 22 December, the team examined (36) patients and operated (5) cases.
On 23 December, the ophthalmologists checked (17) cases and treated (6) patients.
On 24 December, the eye surgeons looked over (13) men and women. They handled (7) cases through operation.
On 25 December, the Happy Holiday of Merry Christmas, the Good Samaritans did not take a break, but examined (5) patients. They operated (6) patients.
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world.
However, the Sagaing Hills area is exclusively scattered with Theravada Buddhist Religious Resorts, and therefore, no carol songs was heard.
On 26 December, the last day of the program, out patients’ examination was not carried out. Initially, five patients were called in for last day operation. Two patients were alerted to be called in for operation if the cases of five patients were completed on time. The operation of five patients was completed at 7:20 pm entering into night.
Even at 7:20 pm night time, Dr. Kwon called in the two remaining eye patients for operation. The mission of Good Samaritans accomplished at 10:00 pm Myanmar Standard Time.
A total of (158) eye patients were examined and (31) difficult, delicate and tricky eye operations were accomplished.
The eye patients and the family members were happy to go home.
Professor Dr. Daw Yee Yee Aung and Dr. U Saw Htoo Set remained at the hospital on 27 December to take care and check the patients operated the previous day. They went back to Mandalay the following day.
Dr. H. Kwon Kang left on 27 December and flew back to Australia from Mandalay / Tada U Airport via Yangon
Before departure, he promised the hosts that he will come back again to Wachet Hospital in February 2015.
I would like to say in Australian culture “Cheerio”. It means good bye; or “Toodle-Oo” with the same meaning. May be “Hooroo” [spelled “ooroo”] which means “Good Bye” or “See you later”.
By Sayar Mya
(The author of the article is Mya Tun, Retired Counsellor / Deputy Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Myanmar).