Restoring Sight in Mongolia

  By Dr. Roger Harrie, Church News contributor

  • 12 July 2013

Article Highlights

  • Dr. Munkhzaya, a young Mongolian eye surgeon, was sponsored by the Church to go to India for 15 months of training in vitreo-retinal surgery.
  • When Dr. Munkhzaya completed his time in India, he became the first retinal specialist in Mongolia.
  • The Church later sent three retinal surgeons from Salt Lake City to Mongolia to work with Dr. Munkhzaya.

Many people in Mongolia have serious eye problems for which no treatment is available locally. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to travel to other countries for treatment and consequently suffer blindness.

Because a large number of patients with retinal disease can only be treated with surgery, the Church sponsored a young Mongolian eye surgeon, Dr. Munkhzaya, for 15 months of training in vitreo-retinal surgery at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India. He was recommended by the new Mongolian mission president, Jay Clark, an ophthalmologist who served on the Church’s Humanitarian Committee prior to his mission call.

Dr. Munkhzaya successfully completed his fellowship and became the first retinal specialist in Mongolia. After completion of his training, the Church sent three retinal surgeons—Dr. James Howard, Dr. Doug Mehr, and Dr. Claron Alldredge—from Salt Lake City to Mongolia to work with Dr. Munkhzaya over three weeks. 

In order to inspect the examination and operating rooms, I traveled to Mongolia the day before the first surgeon arrived. We planned to screen patients for surgery on Monday and start surgery on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the supplies that were essential for surgery became unavailable. Following a night of sincere prayer, we discussed the situation with the clinic director. She asked her materials manager to go through boxes to see if they had any of the needed items. The supplies we required were very specialized.

Vitreo-retinal surgery requires a very high-tech machine called a vitrector. One had been donated two years previously by Alcon Surgical and was sitting unused. And then about two hours before surgery was scheduled to begin, the manager presented us with a box of vitrectomy packs, sutures, and sterile solutions, as well as packets of C3F8 gas essential for certain types of retinal surgery. During the week, surgical procedures were scheduled and substitutes for the needed supplies suddenly appeared from back storage rooms and boxes.

It was exciting to witness the first vitreo-retinal surgery performed by a fellowship-trained Mongolian surgeon. The patient was a sheepherder from 300 miles away who had lost the vision in his good eye. It was one of the most gratifying moments of my life to be with the family when he was examined the day after surgery and was able to see out of his eye for the first time in more than a year. 

Our team was able to assist Dr. Munkhzaya in performing more than 50 vitreo-retinal surgeries.

Dr. Roger Harrie, a Salt Lake City ophthalmologist, serves on the Church’s Humanitarian Committee for Vision Projects.