West Palm Beach to Trujillo, Peru

West Palm Beach, Florida and Trujillo, Peru

Written on Orbis 1 on the flight from Memphis to Barbados, May 11, 2018.

Last month we were in Trujillo, Peru for a 3-week program. March/April 20018.

We started our journey in West Palm Beach, Florida. We had some tours, fundraising events and our Annual training.  West Palm Beach is also where President Trump parks Air Force One when he’s in Florida. When he was in town, the airport security is a mess. It was Easter week, and we were scheduled to fly on Good Friday, March 30th. The people at the FBO said that the President was due to arrive on Friday morning. We quickly decided we didn’t want to be there and get caught up with security and TSA.

Our plane was packed and ready to go, we just finished our preflight and decided to fly to Fort Lauderdale. KFLL was outside of the 30-mile radius of the TSA for West Palm Beach airport and about a 30-minute flight. On the flight to KFLL, I was sitting in the jump seat and my tooth started to hurt. It was very painful, and I wasn’t sure what it was all about as it had not been hurting before. Our Logistics manager Solomon came to pick us up in the van and as I was driving back to the hotel, I asked one of our doctors if I should have it looked at in Florida or just wait until I got to Peru. Of course, he wanted it taken care of right away and he got me into a dentist that afternoon. Turns out I have a cracked tooth and needed a root canal. As soon as it was fixed, I had no pain!  The dentist was very nice and I’m glad I have it taken care of before I left.

One of my old managers, Melvin Sacks, from FedEx in Oakland lived in Florida and had KPBI and KFLL. He offered great support while we were there, and it was fun to see him again. They put up a flyer at the PBI ramp with my phone number and told anyone to call me for a tour. It was great, lots of people called and it’s always fun to show the Orbis plane to the FedEx employees. They are always so helpful to us.

On the weekend, I took a road trip to Miami. We went to the City Hall building, which happened to be the original Pan Am flying boat base.  The building is the same and there are old hangars there that are now used for boat storage. The bay was full of boats and there was a big harbor. It was easy to imagine the old flying boats parking there. We had lunch on the docks and watched the boats come and go.

The next day I drove along the coast and the inland water way. So many big estates and beautiful houses. I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner at the Breakers Hotel. Listed in the 1000 Things to See Before You Die book. The hotel was built in the 30’s and is very close to the ocean. It is called the Breakers because it is so close to the ocean, you can hear the waves breaking.

March 30th – Our plane was full, 35 passengers to Trujillo.  The next morning, we drove to Fort Lauderdale and had a beautiful flight.   The airport in Trujillo is so small that we had to time our arrival to not interfere with the local flights. When we landed, we would shut down the airport until we were parked. Bruce flew with us, as we were not sure how we were going to park and if we had a tug or towbar.  It all worked out in the end, but it was not easy.

We stayed in Trujillo on the town square at the Hotel Liberador. It was very nice and the Pisco Sours were very good.

This was one of my favorite stories from our program in Trujillo, Peru, March 2018. It’s the story of Sandy Burnett, one of our volunteer nurses from Florida.

A Young Boy + His Need for a Cornea Transplant

Jose Raul was a healthy, happy five-year-old playing outside near his home in Lima, Peru when he fell victim to a chance accident. Someone nearby threw something into the air and a metal point hit little Jose in his left eye. He had, as his mother Justine, recalls, a three-millimeter laceration on his eye. Justine didn’t bring him to the doctor immediately, though, because Jose Raul was a strong boy and neither of them knew how bad the injury really was. But the next day, Jose Raul’s eye started emitting a watery liquid and his eye had become visibly inflamed. Justine brought him straight to the emergency room where doctors sewed up his eye with a few stitches, but also told them that Jose Raul had a traumatic cataract and would likely need a cornea and intraocular len transplant given how badly his cornea and len had been damaged by the rogue metal object. If not, they said, he could lose vision in that eye. 

This was Peru in the early 1990s, when there weren’t many, if not zero, opportunities to receive cornea and IOL transplants, and the family was informed they would need to hope they could get someone to bring them this type of transplant from the United States. Justine cared for her son and did what she thought could help: she prayed. 

After five days of praying, speaking with local doctors, and looking for a solution, Justine’s prayers were answered. A friend working in the local medical community called her to tell her that the international nonprofit, Orbis, and the world’s-only Flying Eye Hospital (at that time the aircraft was a DC-8–much smaller than the current MD-10) was coming to Trujillo for the first time in 1991, miraculously, just one week after the accident. Jose Raul and his mom reported to the Instituto Nacional de Oftalmologia (INO), Orbits’ local partner hospital in Lima, and INO referred them to the Flying Eye Hospital project in Trujillo. The project aimed to train local eye care professionals in Peru, while restoring eyesight of patients like Jose Raul. 

One of the staff members who was working on the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital during that Trujillo trip was a nurse named Sandy Burnett from the United States. She still remembers how her team helped complete a successful operation and cornea transplant on Jose Raul. The results of the surgery ended up making an impact on the next several years of his life, as his now-full eyesight helped him excel in Kindergarten, grade school, and eventually being accepted into a Lima university to become an industrial engineer. 

Little did everyone know that many years later, Jose and Sandy would be reunited in the most surprising, unexpected and quite simply magical of ways…

 A Blow They Didn’t See Coming

Two years ago, Jose Raul, now a 32-year old, university-educated professional in Lima, Peru, was mugged and robbed, and his attackers gave him a hard blow to the head. The blunt force trauma caused the ocular lens he’d had repaired many years ago to shift out of place and seriously threaten his vision once again. Jose Raul, still accompanied by his loving mother Justine, went straight back to the team at INO where they recommended eye drops and also surgery once again. Justine was worried–another eye surgery for her son made her nervous. She told friends that Orbis was the only team she’d trust with her son’s eyes, given her positive past experience. 

But then, recently, Jose Raul’s eyesight started to deteriorate.  Justine prayed once again for Orbis to come. 

And, they did.

Justine drove Jose Raul from Lima to Trujillo — more than an eight-hour drive — and, together, they waited in line for a screening. They were the last patients of the entire day to be seen, and Jose Raul was chosen, once again, to have eye surgery from Orbis Volunteer Faculty doctors on the Flying Eye Hospital. The three-part surgery that he needed this time, which included both another cornea transplant and intraocular surgery, was complex but it worked out well in the end. And there, to help Jose Raul through the preoperative, surgery and post-operative process, was a familiar face: Perioperative nurse Sandy Burnett, who has become a long-term volunteer nurse for Orbis for many years. 

Reunited…and Sight Restored

Upon being selected for the Flying Eye Hospital surgery, Justine immediately recognized Sandy as the nurse who had tended to Jose Raul all those years ago in Lima. Sandy has kept photos and journals of every community she visits with Orbis. Justine, it turns out, brought some photos of her own. 

As Sandy recalls, “His mother pulled out some old photos and we’re looking at them together, and I exclaimed ‘soy yo! That’s me!’ And his mother grabbed me in the biggest bear hug I’ve ever had. To have that continuity and connection was really so magical. The stars and planets, everything was aligned.” 

“I’m glad we could visit Peru and help in this way. This is the magic of Orbis and the work that we do, helping people to see again, and recover something important –eyesight and a real sense of dignity– and the future that they’d lost. Jose Raul has grown into such a nice, big, strong, tall man and will be able to continue on better in life now that he has both eyes working properly.”