A day in the life of Dr Sylvain el-Khoury who, until recently, was the cbm ophthalmologist working at the Kabgayi Eye Clinic in Rwanda.
When a man in a white coat enters the waiting area of the Kabgayi Eye Clinic in Rwanda, Rebecca jumps up. In front of her stands the doctor who was just a faceless voice to her, but now she can see him!
Last year, Dr Sylvain performed sight-saving cataract surgery on Rebecca. Today, they laugh together and greet each other with their elbows. Because of COVID-19, they need to be careful. “But I wanted to see my patient again,” says Dr Sylvain. He feels tied to Rebecca’s fate now.
The ophthalmologist first met Rebecca in early 2020. The 32-year-old was completely blind. An eye infection had caused retinal damage, and then cataracts in both her eyes. As a result, the elementary school teacher lost her job. “I couldn’t prepare the lessons, I couldn’t read or do anything,” she says.
None of the doctors she visited were able to help her. Rebecca needed a retinal specialist. But there were only two in Rwanda. One of them is the German-Lebanese Dr Sylvain, who works at the Kabgayi Eye Clinic on behalf of cbm.
Rebecca made the long, 6-hour bus journey from her home. “When I arrived, I started having hope, because I heard some people recovered their sight at Kabgayi. I met the doctor, who promised me that my sight would be restored.’’
“After the successful surgery, it was a celebration of happiness in my family. I now praise God for my sight, and again I thank Dr Sylvain for the tremendous work I witnessed. I wish him endless blessings, may God bless him and many thanks to the whole Kagbayi team and the donors as well,” says Rebecca.
Dr Sylvain decided to become an ophthalmologist to empower people like Rebecca. “As a teenager, on a trip to Mauritania, I saw that almost all the elderly people were blind from cataracts,” recalls the 35-year-old. That still affects him today, because a cataract operation is just a matter of ten minutes!
With very few ophthalmologists in poor countries, Dr Sylvain decided to work in Rwanda. During his time as head of the retinal department at Kabgayi, the clinic attracted more and more patients from all over Rwanda and neighbouring countries.
Although the young doctor enjoyed his work, after 1.5 years he noticed that something was missing – family and friends. “The clinic is very remote and I was lonely,” he admits.
It’s with a heavy heart that Dr Sylvain ends his stint in Rwanda, but he will continue to fly back for short missions until there are more local ophthalmologists.