For this week’s Favorite Friend Friday, we are featuring one of our surgeons who has devoted his life not only to giving back to his local community but to people all over the world. Herbert J. Ingraham, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of Geisinger Eye Institute is passionate about giving back to impoverished populations suffering high rates of blindness.
Dr. Ingraham has a special appreciation for the work he does because right before his sixteenth birthday he received a corneal transplant himself. “I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. Without my transplant, none of this would be possible.”
As a resident, Dr. Ingraham always had international work in the back of his mind, but there weren’t programs in place for it like there are today. “When my daughters were in college, they started going on mission trips, and it reminded me of my passion. I realized I had a shrinking window to do it in, so when I was in my late 40s, I realized it was now or never.”
It is difficult to believe that a routine surgery in the United States that helps restore someone’s vision is unavailable in many countries around the world. Not only is there a startling shortage of ophthalmologists to perform surgery, there is also a shortage of corneal graft tissue. When I spoke with Dr. Ingraham earlier this week he had just returned from his latest mission trip to Nepal and Northern India. He tries to bring his residents there with him yearly depending on the physical and political conditions. “It’s a good experience for the residents,” he explains. “You hope if you plant the seed now, maybe not immediately, but a few years down the road, they will remember this experience and want to give back.”
Just two months prior, Dr. Ingraham traveled back to Gauaqyuil, Ecuador, a country he visits frequently. During this trip he and his team performed 16 corneal transplants and 40 cataract surgeries over the course of four days. A large part of why Guayaquil is so special to Dr. Ingraham is working with Eddie Icaza, MD, Medical Director of FUNCRISA, a general clinic for the residents of Guayaquil. While Dr. Ingraham assisted Dr. Icaza with performing cornea transplant surgery, he states that he learned just as much from the local Doctor as Dr. Icaza did from him.
“There are few things in life more satisfying than restoring someone’s sight, especially someone who has been told, because of where they live and their socio-economic status and their disease, that there is no hope for them. And teaching another physician who can continue that work when I’m back home, that is even more satisfying,” says Dr. Ingraham.
“The number of surgeries I can perform on each mission trip is limited by the number of corneas I can bring from the US,” Dr. Ingraham explains. “I have been profoundly grateful to LEBDV for both the number and quality of corneas the Eye Bank has provided. They are such a wonderful organization that supports so many people right here in our own backyard, as well as across the globe.”
We’ll close off this Favorite Friend Friday article with a Helen Keller quote that Dr. Ingraham ends many of his emails with: “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” –Helen Keller.
Thank you Dr. Ingraham, for all that you do within our community, and around the world!