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Utah team travels to El Salvador to provide life-changing medical care

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A noted Utah surgeon and his team are out of the office today. That’s because they’re more than 3,000 miles away working harder than they’ll work all year without being paid. These medical professionals have joined a humanitarian effort that focuses on one of the poorest and most and dangerous places on earth.

ABC4 was exclusively invited along on this journey. In this three-part series, you’ll watch the story unfold. In part one of The Gift of Sight, we take you to El Salvador to see the place and meet the people who will receive the gift.

San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, is where the vast majority of the 6.5 million people who live there scratch out a living.

Practically everywhere we look, as we walk the streets of the city’s central’ district we see vendors, crowding the sidewalks. Entire families live in the huts the double as their store-fronts.

One man has set up his tiny vegetable stand, against the backdrop of the once opulent national palace, which housed government offices until the mid-70s.

That decade saw civil war ravage El Salvador. Survivors of the war are still trying to survive. Their standard of living, far below what most Americans would consider normal. Basic necessities such as medical care are out of reach for most of these people.

That’s where people like Dr. Marco Antonio Goens come in. He’s a resident physician at Bloom Children’s Hospital, in San Salvador. Dr. Goens is an eye surgeon and here, in this place where disease, poor lifestyles, and violence afflict the people, he is overwhelmed with casework: children, who’ve lost their sight.

When he’s not performing surgeries at the hospital, he’s here, at his clinic, in San Salvador’s upper-income section where his patients never come, except to see him.

Dr. Goens is the last hope for these people who have been blinded by eye disease, or exposure to the sun and air pollution, or caught in the crossfire of warring gangs.

These days, most of Dr. Goens’ work involves removal of eyes that are too damaged to save.

This young man lost his left eye in an accident. He’ll get a prosthetic, thanks to an unexpected and unlikely colleague who appeared on the scene not long ago.

Dr. Hughes is a semi-retired ocularist from Vienna, Virginia, who came to El Salvador years ago, with a group called eye care international. Seeing the need compelled him to help.

A corner of the eye clinic serves as a crude laboratory for Dr. Hughes who is half doctor, half artist.

His medical expertise enables him to take molds of the patient’s eye socket. He’ll use the hardened mold to replicate the shape and size of the prosthetic. His artistic talent enables him to create something that so closely resembles a real human eye, it’s difficult to tell the difference.

Keeping up with the workload requires a six-day work week.

On this Sunday, normally their day of rest, they’re on the road to join the rest of the eye care international mission team.

The Templo del Senor in the tiny fifteenth-century city called Juyua is the meeting place for the entire Eye Care International team.

Doctors Geons and Hughes stand in the back, while the green tee-shirt clad doctors who’ve just arrived from the United States sit in the front pews honored guests.

They’re here by invitation of the priest and the mayor to be blessed.

Many of the people of Juyua are here praying for their own miracles not knowing, they’re praying for this man.

Utah eye surgeon, Dr. Albert Ungricht, traveled to the country to perform the surgeries they have needed for years and change the lives of everyone he touches while there.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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