Three Award-winning Eye Doctors Make Lasting Impact
Many moms cry when they first see their children at birth. But the tears of Dr. John Cropsey’s patient were especially sweet when she gazed on her seven-month-old son for the first time, thanks to surgery that restored her sight.
“She was beaming from ear to ear and crying tears of joy as she thanked God and the eye staff for what they had done for her,” Dr. Cropsey recalls.
From tears to laughter, to shouting and dancing, dramatic displays of joy are common for the patients of Dr. John Cropsey and two other ophthalmologists, Drs. Benjamin Roberts and Wendy Hofman. All three answered God’s call to serve in Africa years ago, thanks to their MedSend grants. Since then, these remarkable eye doctors have had a significant impact on patients and healthcare systems in the regions where they serve.
But don’t just take our word for it. All three physicians have been honored for their work by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). We’re privileged to have played a part in getting these career missionaries to the field and we’re excited to share some of the reasons why they have been recognized in their profession.
John Cropsey, MD
In 2014, Dr. Cropsey was the first recipient of AAO’s Artemis Award that recognizes young ophthalmologists who demonstrate exemplary caring and service to their patients. Dr. Cropsey was cited for his dedication to serving the needs of the poor and underserved while sacrificing the lifestyle that most of his colleagues in the U.S. take for granted. He was commended for facing “often unimaginable daily challenges with a positive and compassionate attitude that has been contagious to the residents who have had the chance to volunteer beside him.”
Dr. Cropsey initially served in Kenya providing eye-care and training national healthcare providers, including nurses, medical students, interns and residents. While there, he helped establish the first corneal-transplant program in the region. He also oversaw the creation of several training programs for community eye care providers. Together, Dr. Cropsey and the Kenyan staff of the Tenwek Eye Unit provided care for more than 28,000 patients. During those two years, the team also performed more than 4,000 surgeries, conducted weekly mobile clinics and made several week-long surgical trips to remote locations in South Sudan and Tanzania with no access to eye care.
In 2013, Dr. Cropsey and his family relocated to Burundi, which had only three eye surgeons for a population of almost 10 million. He works with a team of five other American specialists at the primary teaching hospital for the Hope Africa University’s medical school. As a clinical faculty member at the university, he trains Burundian medical students and provides clinical and surgical care for patients.
Over the next 20 years, the team hopes to transform their small, rural hospital into a 300+ bed training hospital. Ultimately, they want to establish some of the first internship and residency programs in the country. Dr. Cropsey would also like to develop a tertiary eye hospital and training program for that region of Africa.
Wendy Hofman, MD
In 2015, Dr. Hofman was the second recipient of the AAO’s Artemis Award. She was the first ophthalmologist to serve at Bongolo Hospital in rural Gabon and she built an eye clinic there from the ground up. Today, Dr. Hofman and her team perform approximately 70% of Gabon’s annual cataract surgeries (Almost 6000 patient visits and 450-650 cataract surgeries per year). Dr. Hofman often sees patients who have been bilaterally blind for years due to cataracts, and when they finally have the money to pay for taxi fare and find someone to accompany them, they find their way to Dr. Hofman. She also performs many other types of eye surgery.
Dr. Hofman started the only ophthalmology residency program in Gabon, graduating her first resident in 2014. Under her guidance, the resident performed 1000 surgeries as primary surgeon, including 800 cataract surgeries. She has also trained nurses and other healthcare workers.
Dr. Hofman strives to for quality care and is building a registry to assess cataract outcomes. Each patient is refracted postop and she built a simple optical department where her team makes their own glasses. Her leadership and “can do” spirit has helped build her clinic’s capacity. The hospital was also awarded a $600,000 grant from USAID’s ASHA (American Schools and Hospitals Abroad) program to construct a larger eye clinic building, now under construction.
Dr. Hofman says that one of her most rewarding experiences was seeing the proud smile on her resident’s face when he completed his first cataract surgery by himself and knowing there is a legacy being created that will continue even when she is gone.
Benjamin Roberts, MD
Dr. Roberts received AAO’s 2016 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award, which recognizes his dedicated service on behalf of the eye care needs of people in East Africa.
Dr. Roberts has been practicing full-time at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya since 2006. As one of only two retina specialists in a country of 33 million people, Dr. Roberts was able to increase the number of eye surgeries performed at Tenwek from 600 to 2,400 per year within a four-year period. He has treated a wide range of ophthalmic disorders including complex retinal conditions, cataracts, advanced ocular infections, glaucoma and eye trauma. Many of these conditions had previously gone untreated.
Dr. Roberts has magnified his impact by training East African healthcare professionals — including ophthalmology residents, nurses and others interested in learning the basics of eye care — with the goal of creating complete eye care teams. He has led surgical teams to remote locations in Tanzania and to conflict-stricken South Sudan. Dr. Roberts is currently helping Tenwek Hospital raise money to fund construction of a dedicated facility for eye and dental services.