This Bronx-based eye doc’s seen it all.
But even Dr. Anthony Pisacano was taken aback by the look of the hospital where he volunteered in El Salvador earlier this year.
Gone were the gadgets he was accustomed to using at his Westchester Square practice. In their place were two simple tables in a cramped room, which he shared with his daughter, Dr. Kristin Pisacano, a White Plains eye doctor.
“We were in this rural little place, and we had none of the equipment we had back home,” Anthony Pisacano said. “We didn’t even have hot water.”
But even without basic essentials, the son-and-daughter duo got the job done.
The Pisacanos braved tough conditions to restore sight to over 50 needy patients who over the years had developed cataracts, a cloudy presence in the lens of the eye.
Pisacano and his daughter operated on poor laborers whose cataracts had grown so bad that they had caused near blindness. The patients were now either traversing the world by feel or being led around. Though cataracts normally develop in senior citizens, the doctors treated El Salvadorians as young as 40, a product of poor health in the region, Pisacano said.
“These people were never going to see an ophthalmologist unless we went down there,” he said.
Pisacano was connected with Surgical Eye Expeditions, a humanitarian organizations, by chance five years ago and has been going back to El Salvador every year since. The eye doctor’s worked and studied all over the world, but ranks the Central American surgeries among his most challenging, and most gratifying.
“I’ve been given a gift, an education, a talent, and there are people that can really benefit from that,” Pisacano said. “To be able to bring light to these really good people who have led lives that we could never imagine….it’s an honor.”
The surgeries themselves were no easy task. Cataract surgery has evolved in the U.S. over the last few decades. At his current practice at Pisacano Eye on Frisby Avenue, Dr. Pisacano does the work by making a miniscule incision in the eye and then inserting an ultrasound probe that coaxes out the cloudy tissue.
In El Salvador, the doctors didn’t have that kind of technology. To make matters more challenging, the El Salvador hospital had no stitches to close the incisions. Dr. Pisacano and his daughter used old-school techniques from the 1950s to remove the cataracts and restore the workers’ sight.
“There was a bit of anxiety, because I had never done those kind of surgeries without stitches, even in early training in the 70’s” he said. “But I’ve done 40,000 cataract operations and seen about every complication that can happen.”
He said he’s followed up with SEE and heard that the patients are seeing much clearer than they did before.
“It’s gratifying,” he said. “Part of this idea of giving back to the universe.”