Ophthalmologist Rodney Abernethy, along with his wife, Beth, traveled to rural Ecuador on several occasions during the early 1980s to visit their children, who were involved in public health programs conducted by Amigos de las Americas. On one such trip, Dr. Abernethy noted, not surprisingly considering his profession, that not a soul in the Ecuadorian village they were visiting wore glasses, though in his estimation a good number of people should have been.
The following summer, Dr. Abernethy and Beth returned to the same village in Ecuador, this time loaded down with duffle bags filled with eyeglasses. Though glasses were much appreciated and the villagers were overly grateful, the doctor realized that more than corrective lenses were needed in Guaranda. A good number of people required cataract surgery.
The summer of 1985 found the Abernethy’s (accompanied this time by Scrub Nurse Daisy Yee, daughter Janet, and friend of the family, Cindy Goodale) in a bit more ambitious mode, prepared as they were, to perform cataract surgery.
Over the course of the next three years on return trips to Ecuador, Dr. Abernethy and a growing troop of dedicated and committed volunteers expanded operations to the extent that 700 patients were examined and 160 surgeries were performed on two field programs. And just as plans were put in place for a 1988 program, this fledgling group of doctors, nurses and Peace Corps Volunteers, lost their inspirational leader. Thankfully, they never lost their inspiration.
Ecuador and Dr. Abernethy’s work there laid the groundwork and became the inspiration for what is now Vision Health International. It is with some measure of excitement that VHI is planning to return to Ecuador, the place where it all began for the organization.