BUCHAREST AND TARGU-MURES, ROMANIA
In Romania, there are approximately 220,000 births each year. About 9 percent of these births are premature. Romania has 11 neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) where babies are treated for a wide array of medical conditions that can accompany premature birth, including retinopathy, a disease of the retina that can result in impairment or loss of vision. In these NICUs, premature infants with retinopathy are provided medical care by general ophthalmologists on assignment from the Romanian government or from other organizations.
Dr. Jesse Hunsaker, an ophthalmologist of 31 years from American Fork, Utah, explains that retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is “a problem because the retina isn’t fully developed when [the baby] is born.” Furthermore, the infants are exposed to a lot of oxygen in the NICUs to develop their lungs. This overexposure can harm immature vessels on the retina and can lead to eye bleeding and blindness. Premature infants with ROP are examined every week once they are 33 weeks old and are treated as needed. After treatment, they are checked weekly until doctors determine that the retina has matured or there are no further sings of retinopathy developing.
One of LDS Charities’ vision initiatives is to help Romanian doctors learn current advanced techniques to treat babies with ROP. Dr. Hunsaker, who has been an LDS Charities vision committee member for six years, collaborated with Dr. Raed Arafat of the Romanian Ministry of Health to develop a project. They decided that LDS Charities medical training personnel would travel to the cities of Bucharest and Targu Mures, Romania, to lead all-day training seminars for infant vision care.
While at these seminars, Dr. Hunsaker and another LDS Charities doctor-volunteer Claron Allredge introduced Romanian physicians to Avastin (a medication that prevents bad blood vessels from growing) and provided training on how to inject the medicine into an infant eye. The volunteers gave the doctors in attendance more than 100 doses to use in the treatment of their patients. These vials would last them 1 year and give the doctors sufficient experience in using the medication. Then they are able to purchase more Avastin from local pharmaceutical sources as needed. This treatment is used in place of or in conjunction with laser treatment for ROP.
Other supplies distributed include scleral depressors, injection syringes and needles, and dilating drops. Techniques for laser treatment for diabetes and ROP were also reviewed in a series of lectures given in both locations.
Dr. Hunsaker said that the attendance was “fantastic.” All but one of the invited medical facilities had at least one representative who attended and Romanian doctors sought advice regarding specific patients and shared interesting and challenging cases they had.
LDS Charities volunteers felt that the training was well-received and anticipate that more Romanian infants will benefit from the current techniques and new medication. Dean Walker, manager of the vision initiative for LDS Charities, said that “the purpose of this initiative is to prevent avoidable blindness and visual impairment and strengthen eye care services to health care organizations that provide services to the poor. The project in Romania will bless so many lives in the years to come.”