Dr. Deborah Ristvedt recently returned from her trip to the Gess Eye Hospital in Sierra Leone. She and her team plan to return annually to provide free glaucoma and cataract surgeries for an underserved patient population of 40 million West Africans. In addition, Dr. Ristvedt hopes to raise donations for free patient surgeries along with $200,000 for a new facility that would serve as the first and only destination for retina surgery in West Africa.
Dr. Lowell Gess, grandfather of Dr. Ristvedt, first traveled to West Africa in 1952 with the hope of serving and treating patients as a general physician. Upon arrival, he discovered a profound need for eyecare services. After training, Dr. Lowell Gess began providing ophthalmology services for the Sierra Leone area and eventually established his own hospital in 1984.
It was a visit to this hospital that inspired Dr. Deborah Ristvedt, Dr. Lowell Gess’s granddaughter, to specialize in ophthalmology. Dr. Ristvedt witnessed firsthand the impact of restoring a person’s eyesight. She also saw the immense need for quality eye care as she observed patients lined up for days to receive their surgeries.
Dr. Ristvedt hopes to continue her grandfather’s legacy, a legacy that stretches over five decades of service as a volunteer eye surgeon in West Africa. She has made a commitment to return every year for up to two weeks and perform as many free surgeries as possible. Dr. Ristvedt plans to use her skilled background and training to treat and halt the progression of glaucoma in patients at the hospital as well.
The Gess Eye Hospital has served millions of patients since its first opening. Though the facility has grown to include a new ambulatory surgery center, a need for retina facilities persists. The new “West African Center of Excellence in Vision Care” would be the first and only destination for retina surgery in West Africa. Dr. Ristvedt and her husband Eric are determined to raise the $200,000 needed for the new facility before the end of 2019. A new facility would provide much-needed services and serve as a beacon of hope for the people of West Africa.
Additionally, Dr. Ristvedt and her husband wish to raise money to provide free cataract and glaucoma surgeries. When Dr. Ristvedt practices at the hospital, she provides as many free surgeries as possible in her time there. Most of the year, when Dr. Ristvedt is not in West Africa, the patients must pay for the surgeries. Each surgery costs $50, a number much too high for most of the patients in West Africa.
The ability to see is life-changing. Every $50 pays for a cataract surgery for a patient that might otherwise go blind. You can make a contribution on the GoFundMe campaign here. With your donation, you too can be part of the tradition Dr. Lowell Gess began in West Africa.