LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and six other American eye surgeons are in Guatemala on a medical mission trip, performing about 200 cataract surgeries for patients in one of the Central American nation's neediest communities.
"It's a challenge to be in a third world country but we're excited to do it," Paul said in an interview with WHAS11 prior to the trip.
The Baja Verapaz region mission is part of a five-year partnership of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Foundation (ASCRS Foundation), the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center, The Hope Alliance, Alcon and Lions Club International.
Click here for information about the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Foundation.
Click here for video of a prior eye surgery medical mission in Salama, Guatemala by World Pediatric Project, an unrelated organization.
Paul said the biggest benefit for him is the satisfaction of helping people.
"And I took a long time to train to do it," he added. "And I feel like... it's the one disappointment I have being in the Senate is that all that training I have I'm not able to use it very often. But I still try to do it when I can."
After operating a medical practice for nearly twenty years in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Paul has continued to perform pro-bono surgeries across the state even after selling his practice when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Paul said he has performed free surgeries in Paducah, Glasgow, Corbin, Lexington and Bowling Green.
"Every couple of months I just go to a place where they sort of find people who don't have health insurance to do surgery," Paul explained.
One week ago, Paul performed cataract surgeries at the Dupont Surgery Center in Louisville.
The junior senator told WHAS11 that he was prepared to adapt surgical techniques according to available technology at the Hospital de Ojos-Club de Leones in Salama, Guatemala.
"Some of it will be done with modern equipment," Paul said. "They are also adapting and evolving ways of doing the surgery in a fairly modern way but without some of the equipment."
"There's an ultrasound that dissolves the cataract. It costs about $100,000, $150,000. I think we may have one, but some of us may be on with it, and some of us may be on without it," Paul continued. "But we've learned how to do it through smaller incisions even without the ultrasound machine."
“One of the ASCRS Foundation’s primary goals is to help end preventable blindness around the world, as well as here in the United States,” said David F. Chang, MD, chair of the ASCRS Foundation International Committee. “This important mission to Guatemala and the support that Sen. Paul is providing will, hopefully, help us achieve this goal while raising awareness of the profound need for high-quality eye care worldwide.”
For Paul, the trip is also an opportunity to reconnect with and reexamine Juan and Andres Hernandez, brothers he operated on in 1996 and 1999 when they were brought to Kentucky for medical treatment.
"One of the remarkable things I remember about them is their job for their family is to go get water from the river," Paul said. "And they were blind. They would follow each other hand on shoulder down to the river and hope nobody fell in."
After cataract surgery, Paul said the men don't have perfect vision because their brain's vision center didn't develop, but have "ambulatory vision" which allows them to see and distinguish items near them.
"I think that they are happy that they have what they have," Paul said.
“We are pleased to be joined by Sen. Paul in our efforts to provide humanitarian care in Guatemala,” said Randall J. Olson, M.D., CEO of the John A. Moran Eye Center and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “His participation is bringing attention to the huge problem of global blindness and the work we are doing to eradicate it.”