This past Monday, students in the fourth and fifth grade class were extremely fortunate to host LRS parent Scott Hamilton for an informative and moving talk about his humanitarian work with Dooley Intermed International and Operation Restore Vision. Scott is the President of Dooley Intermed and an expedition leader on humanitarian outreach projects.
The two organizations are committed to providing healthcare to people in need, and to teaching and training local medical professionals who are able then to continue the work. Dooley Intermed and Operation Restore Vision have brought teams to numerous countries in the world, with recent projects in Nepal, India and the Dominican Republic. Scott explained to students that the ophthalmic team centers on two primary kinds of intervention: the removal of cataracts, which Scott likens to a “dirty window inside the eye” (and which is responsible for roughly half of the blindness in the world) and the fitting of eyeglasses. Most of the individuals from young to old have never experienced an eye exam. Some have lived with great visual impairment, often without any realization of the impairment itself or the availability to receive sight-restoring medical care. The personal and professional impact of restoring vision for both patient and practitioner is, in Scott’s words, “life-changing.”
Scott introduced his talk with a screening of the poignant, award winning short documentary film: Mustang Gift of Sight, The film illustrates the Dooley Intermed 2015 Restore Vision Expedition in Nepal. After the film, Scott brought the students attention to the opening scene, which highlights the practice of the “town crier” announcing the arrival of a “vision clinic” to villagers. Scott explained that in many remote regions of the globe, citizens may be illiterate and dependent upon this oral tradition of sharing information. Additionally, the use of “tumbling E” eye charts is another way that specialists can assess vision in patients unable to interpret a traditional alphabet. The chart was just one of the artifacts on display for students to examine.
Using a 3-D model of a human eye, Scott went on to explain the basic functions of the eye, referring to it as the “Maserati of the human body,” taking special care to urge students to protect their eyes using good practices. Students were awed by the fact that the human eye can detect 2.7 million colors and 500 different shades of grey. In complete darkness, the eye can spot a candle over one mile away. Students also learned that the lens inside the eye actually changes shape when focusing! Scott shared with students a basic understanding of how light is refracted into the eye to create a visual image. Students passed around a bio-indirect ophthalmoscope, eye charts, a fixation device used with pediatric patients and a skiascopy bar with lenses of different refractive powers. Scott expressed how the relationship between the human brain and the human eyes creates an incredible visual system of miracle and wonder.
Throughout the discussion, students asked questions ranging in topics: the difference between artificial and human lenses, the use of anesthesia, what it means to be colorblind, cornea transplants, optimal conditions for cataract surgery, sympathetic ophthalmia, why eyes are different colors, why the nose does not get in the way of one’s visual field, the phenomena of the changing pupil in response to light, how contact lenses differ from glasses, and the theory of evolution as it relates to adaptations in vision acuity.
Equally fascinating was Scott’s personal journey to humanitarian work. Beginning with a career on Wall Street, Scott became aware of the need for healthcare in Nepal through a luncheon at the United Nations. This began his participation in his first medical expedition, which led to many more in a path from general medicine to a specialization in ophthalmology. Scott also credits his fourth grade teacher who inspired his interest in the Himalayas, in adventure and global exploration; ideas, that very much stayed with him. He also noted his subsequent reading of the book Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, as another pivotal influence throughout his younger years. Scott’s commitment to medicine and philanthropy has extended to the orphanage he helped build in Nepal. He further delighted students when he explained the gift of two water buffalos to the orphanage in order to provide much needed milk for its youngest residents. Scott’s organization also provides all the orphans with a private school education.
Students learned that Nepal is home to over ten different languages, which is why Dooley Intermed often enlists Buddhist monks, with their knowledge of at least three languages, to assist with outreach medical camps. Using maps and a classroom globe, students also learned that the border between Tibet and Nepal is home to Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world as well as to the world’s deepest canyons. This is the dramatic backdrop for a land that is, according to Scott, “off the grid, without social welfare and without an infrastructure to support many of its residents.” It is for this reason that an organization like Dooley Intermed International can make a tremendous impact in so many lives.
Scott W. Hamilton, MBA, COT
Scott is the father of Beginner, John, and a lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, and President of Dooley Intermed International, a humanitarian organization. He is currently collaborating with NASA seeking causes and countermeasures for eye maladies affecting astronauts during prolonged space flight, also developing and testing 3-Dimensional oculofacial modeling tools. Past collaborations include biomedical research expeditions to Mt. Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro with NASA, Yale University, and the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, developing predictive health models and conducting large-scale physiological studies in extreme environments. He also helped develop extreme low-light underwater vision technologies in cooperation with MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is the Co-Leader of the Operation Restore Vision team.