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Feature Stories

Eyes Are The Prize

Local surgeon completes

humanitarian mission trip

Inspired by his first unique opportunity to create an impact on the lives of people in underprivileged countries, Dr. Gerard D’Aversa continued on a second mission trip to provide vision-restoring procedures to underprivileged patients once again.

Dr. D’Aversa, a surgeon at Island Eye Surgicenter in  Carle Place, completed a humanitarian mission trip to Grenada, West Indies in January. Accompanied by his 21-year-old son Jerry Jr. and surgical technician Kadrian Tobias of Brooklyn, Dr. D’Aversa preformed cornea transplants and cataract surgeries on long awaited patients on the small island.

During the week-long visit, the Garden City resident performed more 30 eye operations on patients ranging from 26 to 70, with the help of his son and technician. Dr. D’Aversa is a board-certified ophthalmologist with Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island, and is experienced in cornea, cataract and refractive surgery at one of the busiest and nationally recognized eye care centers in the Metropolitan area. Recruited surgeons are periodically sent over to medically underserved countries that meet only the basic medical needs of the population and need expertise in ophthalmology.

“You have to realize that ophthalmology surgery is a very complicated specialty,” explained Dr. Bob Nelson. “Because the eye is so sophisticated and such a special organ, it requires very sophisticated treatment and delicate instrumentation.”

Although sponsored by a grant from St.George’s University School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, Grenada has no formal healthcare available to it’s residents and does not have trained and highly skilled doctors or the needed medication that patients in the United States receive. Dr. D’Aversa was the first American surgeon to visit Grenada since 2005 to perform modern-day sight-restoring eye surgeries.

“We are so fortunate here in this country to have all that we have available to us. There are so many people in this world that don’t have the availability to have what we have,” says Dr. D’Aversa. “I think that if some of us who have certain skills could donate a little bit of our time or set aside time to help those who need it most is a great thing to do, and it benefits everyone including whose doing it. Its nice to be able to do good things for others.”

Without Island Eye Surgicenter’s Executive Director (PA-C) Bob Nelson, of Williston Park, none of the necessary medications and equipment would have been made available for the mission. Nelson contributed generously and was key to making the mission successful. His strong relationships in the ophthalmology field as well managing a surgical center for 25 years allowed him to reach out to medical equipment centers to gain the surgical supplies and medications needed to treat the patients.

“I was pleased to take part in supporting this important effort,” said. Nelson. “Without them, Dr. D’Aversa could not have performed these complicated surgeries which ultimately restored sight to many of the patients he operated on.”

Along with Island Eye, FERA Pharmaceutical, Alcon, and Bausch and Lomb donated the tens of thousands of dollars worth of necessary equipment with no guarantee they would be returned.

Dr. Nelson also provided experienced staff member Kadrian Tobias, a surgical technician, to aid in Dr. D’Aversa’s surgeries along with his son Jerry Jr., a junior studying pre-med at Manhattan College.

“I grew up in Jamaica where the quality of healthcare is completely different compared to what we have here in the States,” said Kadrian. “I wanted to share the experience and technology that I have acquired here with those in need in developing countries. I was thrilled to participate and hopefully made a difference in the lives of those we were able to help.”

Nelson asked Dr. D’Aversa if he would visit Grenada and if he had an interest in being involved in an outreach program to underprivileged countries aware that he had completed a mission to Ghana, Africa with his daughter in 2011.

“After his first experience with his mission to Ghana, he came back very inspired by the experience,” said the surgical director.

Once the supplies were donated to Dr. D A’versa’s mission, getting the supplies to the island nation was a challenge. Along with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, the team also had to bring over $6,000 worth of corneal tissue in order to complete corneal transplant surgeries since there is no eye bank in Grenada.

“The most unique thing that we bought down was corneal tissue to do transplants. Lions Eye Bank for Long Island donated tissue, brought in a Styrofoam box with approval from the TSA, and I filled six very large over sized suitcases with medical supplies, medications, and instrumentation. I also shipped equipment via Fed Ex to the island.”

This was Jerry Jr.’s first mission trip although he hopes to complete more in the future. Jerry assisted in the operating room and conducted pre and post-operative examinations, and distributed eye medicine to patients.

“This mission trip was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said the younger D’Aversa. “My favorite part of the trip was examining patients the day after cataract and corneal transplant surgery. The patients could not believe that they could see again. Everyone was very grateful for our work. I would definitely be involved in another medical mission trip if one was offered to me. I learned so much about eye care and working in an operating room. It was a life changing experience and I hope to help many more people in my life.”

Since most of the patients awaiting the surgery had lost complete vision in one or both of their eyes, it was a life-changing event for some residents.

“The patients were ecstatic and they couldn’t have shared their gratitude better then they did,” explained Dr. D’Aversa. “The praises to God were delightful it was truly a humbling scenario.”

Dr. D’Aversa has also been involved with a number of organizations such as Rotacare and Eyecare America providing medical care and surgery for free, for those who really do not have the resources to pay for their care.