Sunday, May 1, 2005


Dr. John Corboy examined a patient's eyes while on a trip to Vietnam.

Retired doctor restores
sight in Third World

A Hawaii eye surgeon donates his
time and equipment in Vietnam

Since selling Hawaiian Eye Center five years ago, Dr. John Corboy has devoted himself to restoring sight to impoverished people in the Pacific and Third World countries.

"I've been doing cataracts for 30 years," said Corboy, 66, "and it's absolutely breathtaking to me when you fix eyes of people who haven't seen their hand in front of their face, and they come in tears, 'I can see my granddaughter.'

"It makes you thrilled to be able to give back like this."

Corboy's Hawaiian Eye Foundation has conducted South Pacific medical missions for 25 years. He went on them part time for about five years while in practice. Now that he has more time, he is branching out with the nonprofit humanitarian organization, SEE International, which sends doctors to 32 countries.

He recently performed sight-restoring surgery in Vietnam with an international SEE team.

"I'm so busy having fun," he said, describing his experience in Hue City and plans for Pacific and Asian missions.

The doctors travel at their own expense and donate their services.

They did about 100 lens implantations in Vietnam, using supplies they took with them, Corboy said. Their patients were poor farmers who walked 50 to 100 miles barefoot to get free restoration of their vision, he said, "and we give them this wonderful gift.

"I walk out of their floating to think I did that, this little Johnny Corboy.

"Despite all the hardships of living in a grubby place and traveling, bad food, water and weather, when you see the look on their face when you take the bandage off, that's all I need to make up for bedbugs and no coffee. It's just a thrill."

Corboy once had nine offices around Hawaii and is noted for one of the earliest and largest ophthalmic practices in the nation.

He lives on Molokai "raising chickens, playing with grandchildren" and commuting by helicopter from his back yard to Oahu.

He runs the Hawaiian Eye Foundation with public donations that support the Royal Hawaiian Eye Conference, the third-largest meeting of eye doctors in the world, outreach programs and supplies for missions.

He is helping the Vietnamese establish educational meetings similar to the Royal Hawaiian Eye Conference.

"A number of surgeons like myself, retired, spend time overseas stamping out blindness and teaching," Corboy said, pointing out "it's better to teach them how to fish" than to fish for them.

Since he is no longer in private practice, Corboy said, he is not on the cutting edge of eye care in 2005. But he is an expert in eye care in the '70s, '80s and '90s, which is where Third World countries are, he said.

Conversely, he said, young guys leaving training programs "can only use high-powered ultrasonic and laser devices.

"They don't know how to use old by-the-hand methods we did 30 years ago, and they can't work with no electricity, where the computer screen doesn't work. This is down and dirty."

Corboy and another doctor lectured and demonstrated cataract removal and lens implantation techniques to Vietnamese doctors and nurses, but they are teaching 1980s methods, he said.

Maybe in a year or two, if they can get newer equipment donated, they can teach 1990s methods, he said.

Corboy reminds doctors: "You're not really out to pasture because you're 65. There are lots of things you can do to give back.

"I really feel so privileged to be able to do that. It's like you have a magic wand. You can wave it and restore someone's vision."

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