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Lifestyle // Good Neighbors
MidWeek Staff

Dr. Christopher Tortora

Photo from Brandin Shim

Photo from Brandin Shim

Dr. Christopher Tortora, CEO and medical director of Hawaiian Eye Center in Wahiawa, recently returned from a trip to Myanmar and Vietnam to provide eye-care services.

“The goal of the trip was to provide education at a high level to the doctors in Yangon, Myanmar, and Hue, Vietnam,” explains Tortora, who has been practicing ophthalmology at Hawaiian Eye Center since 1991.

Doctors came from across Vietnam to attend the meeting, which involved didactic lectures, consultations with real patients, and instruction in labs for eye surgery and use of modern ophthalmic diagnostic equipment.

Ten years ago, in response to the Vietnamese ophthalmological community, Hawaiian Eye Foundation started sponsoring Imperial City Eye Meeting (ICEM), which is similar to education meetings that occur regularly within the United States.

The biennial meeting spans four days and covers all aspects of ophthalmology in didactic and laboratory settings, and is designed to help local doctors understand more about ophthalmology and modern surgical techniques, as well as learn more about instruments for diagnostic testing and interpreting their data.

“This year, for the first time, they also organized the first Western-sponsored eye meeting in Myanmar in more than 30 years,” says Tortora, who paid his own way and volunteered his time to teach at these meetings.

He explains that doctors in Myanmar had not received outside training for many years because of the former military dictatorship, and were very receptive to the educational sessions.

“Because of the relatively limited access to eye care in Myanmar, we saw many cases of rare eye disease and children with severe eye conditions, which we don’t generally see here,” Tortora says.

The most enjoyable part of the trip was seeing how receptive the doctors were to the teachings.

“I also enjoyed learning a little about the culture and history of each of the countries,” Tortora says. “Myanmar has only recently been opened to tourism, and the people there are far more naive and are not tuned in to treating tourists like tourists.

“They are treated more like guests and sometimes like celebrities. Local Burmese would often ask to take a picture with a Westerner, as they rarely saw a Western face.”

Another Myanmar meeting is being planned for 2015, and ICEM will continue its two-year cycle in 2016.

In addition to Tortora and its overseas mission, Hawaiian Eye Center also sponsors an educational radio program each Saturday at 8 a.m. on AM 830.

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