Tuesday, May 3

double vision

may 02, 2005

The idea for this latest post started with a big imaginary number. A big number to setup the story. When I learned of blind identical two year old twins scheduled for eye surgery, and found they came from a nearby IDP camp, it seemed a perfect exercise for calculating high odds. I'd always loved the idea of a long shot.

I started with the odds of being born with an identical twin: about 1 in 240. That seemed less than I'd guessed, but made sense. Next, on to being born blind with cataracts in both eyes. A little more than 1 in 10,000. The last number to throw in, the odds of being born an Internally Displaced Person or IDP. A what?

What I knew of IDPS was limited to newspaper and television reports of people crowded together in camps waiting to go home. But after seeing many of the Liberian camps - I've learned they mean thousands squatting, living on top of each other in mud huts, rain leaking through unraveling blue and white tarps - the sun relentlessly forcing through cracking walls. They mean waiting for food handouts from the World Food Programme. At best "IDP" is a poor, abstract term that conveys little humanity and provokes too little thought.

The term was coined to differentiate from refugees. To describe people forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations or disasters. Yet because they didn't flee across a border, they don't qualify for the benefits and aid money or the privilege of being called refugees.

This in mind, expecting a number similar to stats for blindness, I was shocked to find out the odds were almost identical to being born with a lookalike. That just couldn't be right. Yet more research pointed to about 25 million IDP's in our world. Out of our world pop of 6.4 billion of us that's 1 in 254. Unsurprisingly, Africa hosts more than half of the world's IDPS - six million of them in Sudan alone.

Yet even with a much lower global home to homeless ratio than expected, once I put the factors together, I got my very large number. Born with an identical twin, blind and displaced? Ready? Bad luck to the tune of 1 in 381 million.


Meet Assan and Alusan. They live on the doorstep of total darkness, their heads bobbing and weaving as they touch their faces and hands together outside the ship's gangway, waiting to be admitted. They have never seen their mother, never seen each other. They cannot see that they wear what surely must be donated matching outfits, rust colored shorts with oversized off-white shirts - a blue and red race car marking their tops and "bon voyage" their shorts.

The boys were born in the Caldwell IDP camp about forty five minutes from Monrovia - Liberia's capital city where our hospital ship is docked. Add one refugee mom to the picture. Initially from Sierra Leone, their mother, Ellen, had fled imminent danger during the country's ugly civil war in 1999 only to find herself embroiled in another war - Liberia's 14 year old conflict. Tough stuff, but their story turns here.

A neighbor in the camp told Ellen about our ship that offered free medical care and surgery. She came, and the boys were screened by our eye staff and scheduled for bilateral cataract surgery. The day before their big day, some excited colleagues and I piled into a dilapidated taxi and headed for the IDP camp about an hour away. On what we normally wouldn't call a road, splattered with 92 potholes and small lakes, we pulled up to the camp. We wanted to see the twins in their environment and make sure they didn't miss their important surgery date. After about an hour visit to the camp, we learned that they had left for Monrovia already.

I first saw the twins the next morning, and after a closer look, had to wonder whether an operation would prove successful. The mother looked at us hopefully, but their little eyes seemed all wrong - the cataracts seemed the least of their problems, for they had never built up the muscles that kept them moving in concert. The eyes were painful to watch, rolling aimlessly in opposite directions.

Two mornings later I huddled around their bed in the ward with a few others, watching Texas surgeon Dr. Glenn Strauss work. Dr. Strauss had removed their cataracts, and was now removing their eye patches for the moment of truth. I believe we were told not to expect a quick miracle of 20/20 vision - but what followed was memorable indeed.

The boys could see.

They could focus and track.

Yellow balloons came out and their little hands grabbed and punched them. They scanned our faces with clear black wide eyes, overwhelmed by new sensations as Dr. Strauss beamed and we laughed. A new meaning to the expression "wide-eyed" for us - we were proud parents watching our child take that first step, yet the gift of first time sight easily trumped that of movement.

We took them home to a relative's house in a Land Rover later that day, and watched as they showed off new eyes and new steps for a surprised extended family. We watched as they began exploring a new world on new feet - first in unsure wide circles, a half hour later in erratic, confident lines after each other, their first game of tag.

please explore images of their journey at http://www.onamercyship.com/albumdoublevision


Lorie said...

Wow. You are experiencing an amazing glimpse at a bigger world than most of us will ever know or see in person. Thanks for sharing your journey with us and allowing God to work in you and through you as he continues to open your eyes.

Do you have an update on the two boys with the lymphoma in their eyes?

3:09 PM  
Anonymous said...

hello, my name is Aubreana Kyle and I read your story in Relevant Magazine. You have an amazing testimony and it's Awesome that you've let God use you by simply taking pictures. Im with this group Breakdown and we speak on the sexual abstinence message. This fall our director will be going to Uganda and I spoke of what you were doing here and for myself I would love to help you. I will be praying for you and God is so awesome! Thank you for telling your story because the people as well as yourself has affected me!

8:02 PM  
Anonymous said...


10:09 PM  
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10:10 PM  
Crock Pot Mom said...

Thank you for the awesome way you allow God to use you! Bless you for your inspiring words and heart sharings. I have posted your article about your transformation on my blog as I was so inspired and wanted to provide a lift for others like me who are trying to walk in His will...Blessings this day.

6:13 PM  
Christine Renee said...

Scott, I think God is writing an amazing chapter in your life. One you shall remember in detail in your old age. The Book of Matthew in the New testament, chapter 25, verse 35.36 reads, "I was hungry and you fed me, I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me..." Those were the words of Jesus. "When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me," Jesus said. May the Lord bless all of those who are the hands of Jesus and who show compassion and the meaning of Love.

4:52 AM  
msa showcase said...


7:45 PM  
Nona hendryx said...

Hi Scott,

I am following your amazing progress and will go to the show with a few friends before the 7th. You have been given a gift and shared it with me and many others inspiring me to give more of myself.

Thank you,

5:32 AM  
Anonymous said...

Amazing story. Please bring your exhibit to Los Angeles.

8:49 AM  
Miguel (Spain) said...

I am truly moved by your work, it brings us out of our "rich world" distractions back into reality. In fact, I just graduated from Medical school and want to pursue a career in Ophthalmology. Once I complete my training I will do my best to join your effort.

10:00 PM  
Liberian in the US said...

God bless you all!

1:28 PM  

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