Editor’s Note: The first surgery for the patient is 7:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 13. She will be arriving at hospital at 5:45 a.m.
An 8-year-old girl from American Samoa will receive life-changing surgery Thursday, Sept. 14 at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. The child, Lourdes Iputi, is the recipient of a Gift of Life procedure through a partnership between Palmetto Health, Spring Valley Rotary Club and its medical charity, Gift of Life.
Pediatric ophthalmologist Alexander Pogrebniak, MD, will perform surgery to remove dense bilateral cataracts from both of the child’s eyes. The initial surgery is Thursday, and the second surgery is planned for later this month after evaluating how the first eye responds. Lourdes is expected to be here for three to four weeks. “The cataracts look calcified and she has had them for a very long time,” said Pogrebniak. “Lourdes is going to have to learn to see again. The vision centers of the brain deteriorate from lack of use. Her brain has forgotten how to see.”
Pogrebniak has traveled to Grenada, West Indies three times to provide surgery for children with vision problems. “When we have the opportunity to change a child’s life, we have to do this. I consider helping Lourdes a privilege and am honored to be involved,” he said.
While participating in a medical mission trip to American Samoa, Stuart A. Hamilton, MD, a retired physician and Rotarian, encountered Lourdes and diagnosed her bilateral cataracts. “Her mother explained that the child’s vision was normal as a toddler but grew progressively worse. She appears to have a sliver of vision around the cataracts and holds objects against her face to employ her remaining vision,” said Hamilton.
When Hamilton returned to South Carolina, he proposed to the Spring Valley Rotary Club that the girl be considered for the club’s annual Gift of Life project, which offers a life-changing procedure for a child who could not get this level of care in his or her community. The Spring Valley Rotary Club is a longtime supporter of Gift of Life, a program that accepts at-risk children from developing nations and provides life-saving procedures with Rotary funds. Through its partnership with Palmetto Health, Rotary is able to bring a child to the United States, provide life-changing medical treatment, house them with Rotary families and send them home well.
Pogrebniak emphasized that restoring Lourdes’ vision is a gradual process. “This is quite different from adult cataract surgery. Long term, this will absolutely change Lourdes’ life, but it will require months of re-training her brain. This is the first step on her journey and we are fortunate to be able to do this while she is still young,” he said.
Eva Pele, of Mission of Hope Ministries in Cayce, is serving as the child’s guardian during her stay in the Midlands.
“Lourdes likes to be called Lila (pronounced Leela) and she loves to sing and dance,” said Pele. “Since she arrived in South Carolina last week, she has been enjoying trying new foods and singing for us. She speaks English and Samoan.” A friend of Pele’s surprised Lourdes with a whole new wardrobe and a suitcase to bring everything back to American Samoa in October.
Pele added, “We were told that if Lila did not get surgery now, she could be blind for the rest of her life, so we are just thankful for how God has worked it all out. We stand in awe and are grateful for the hospital, doctors and care team.”