FEATURE | Posted Jan. 3, 2015


Setting sights on a clearer future

The Moya children, born with a rare form of glaucoma, await examinations with UC Davis Eye Center surgeonsThe Moya children, born with a rare form of glaucoma, await examinations with UC Davis Eye Center surgeons, hoping to receive treatment during a recent medical mission to Peru organized by Orbis International.

It was too late for UC Davis Eye Center surgeons to restore vision for Vanesa Jasmin Moya, 5, already irreversibly blind from a rare form of congenital glaucoma that progressed before eye specialists in her native country could properly treat her.

But brother, Giancarlo, age 10, and other adults and children in developing countries are benefitting from a longstanding partnership between UC Davis and Orbis International, a global nonprofit dedicated to preventing and treating avoidable forms of blindness. Through the partnership, international teams of physicians and nurses treat patients and help to build a critical mass of local specialists who have learned important ophthalmic skills and techniques to care for their own patients in the future.

The gift of sight

Giancarlo is one of the many success stories emerging from a recent medical mission with Orbis in Trujillo, Peru. At the time of his initial eye exam, Giancarlo’s vision was very limited, and he had no light perception in his right eye.

Seeing the need for immediate action, UC Davis Eye Center glaucoma specialist James Brandt operated, implanting a drainage device in Giancarlo’s left eye to alleviate his ocular pressure. The device, called an Ahmed valve, will permanently remain in his eye to help drain accumulating fluid and help slow his rapid loss of eyesight. With regular checkups, Giancarlo will be able to read and go to school, important to his quality of life.

Dr. James Brandt © UC Regents"That's part of the reason why I'm so passionate about working on pediatric glaucoma around the world. It's the impact that you have."
— James Brandt

Transforming lives and families

Restoring sight is life-changing to families, communities and, ultimately, local economies. For the Moya family, improving Giancarlo’s vision offers hope for a more self-sufficient future. Jacinto Aristides Moya, the father of Giancarlo and Vanesa, works as a security guard to support his family. His wife devotes herself full-time to caring for their visually impaired children. While the family only lives about 16 miles from Trujillo, the distance can present a significant barrier to receiving care at the regional eye center.

“For an ocular condition such as primary congenital glaucoma, you really need the highest level of care on a regular basis," Brandt said. "That's part of the reason why I'm so passionate about working on pediatric glaucoma around the world. It's the impact that you have. You can literally save a lifetime of vision, as opposed to restoring an elderly person's vision for only a few years."

Ongoing training essential

Dr. Mark Mannis and training group © UC Regents
UC Davis Eye Center director Mark Mannis works with local physicians to identify the best candidates for surgery to correct vision loss caused by damage to the cornea, the transparent, dome-shaped window covering the eye.

In developing countries, local physicians and nurses are eager to enhance their education and skills to meet the needs of a huge population of patients with treatable eye disorders and conditions. By working alongside these international teams, local physicians and nurses build their confidence and competency.

The need for eye care is especially great for children.

“Unfortunately, in many of these countries, pediatric glaucoma is managed identically to adult glaucoma, and that's really the wrong approach,” Brandt said. “There are very good operations for glaucoma in children that have not been taught or implemented in the developing world. I've become involved with Orbis to promote the proper management of pediatric glaucoma and to develop expertise locally so that these children receive the proper care.

"The hope is that some of these doctors we train can go on to become regional experts in their respective subspecialties," he said.

The outreach effort with Orbis International is one of the many ways that UC Davis is making an international impact through its research, education and health-care programs and is finding solutions to some the world’s most pressing challenges.