How One Nurse and her Patient Were Reunited on board the Flying Eye Hospital

Jose was a healthy, happy five-year-old playing near his home in Lima, Peru when something hit him in the eye.

His mother, Justine, brought him to the emergency room the next day where doctors sewn the deep cut in his right eye. Unfortunately, Jose needed a cornea transplant or he could lose vision in his right eye.

This was Peru in the early 1990s, when there weren’t many opportunities to receive cornea transplants.

After five long days of praying and consultation, a family friend called Justine to tell her that Orbis’s Flying Eye Hospital was coming to Lima for a program. Justine hurriedly brought Jose to the Instituto Nacional de Oftalmologia (INO), Orbis’s local partner hospital in Lima, to have his eyes checked. Little Jose was selected to be operated on board the Flying Eye Hospital!

Orbis nurses with young patient.

One of the Orbis Volunteer Faculty members working on the Flying Eye Hospital during the Lima program was Sandy Burnett, a nurse. She still remembers how her team helped complete a successful cornea transplant and intraocular lens surgeries on Jose.

Little did everyone know that many years later, Jose and Sandy would be reunited in the most surprising, unexpected and magical of ways.

Fast Forward To 2016

Jose, with his eyes treated, was able to complete university and was working as an industrial engineer. One day, he was robbed and suffered a hard blow to his head, shifting the intraocular lens in his right eye. Jose’s eyesight slowly deteriorated over the next few years.

Orbis returned to Peru in April this year for our 14th Flying Eye Hospital in the country. The ever-loving mother Justine drove Jose from Lima to Trujillo – a trip more than eight hours – to the Instituto Regional de Oftalmología (IRO), our partner in Trujillo, to have Jose’s eyes screened.

Jose was the last patient of the day to be seen and thankfully again, he was chosen as a teaching case for the Flying Eye Hospital program. He had a complex three-part surgery this time.  And there, to help Jose throughout the entire process, was a familiar face – Registered Nurse Sandy Burnett.

Sandy has kept photos and journals of every community she visits with Orbis. Justine, as it turns out, brought some photos of her own.

As Sandy recalls, “Justine pulled out some old photos and we’re looking at them together, and I exclaimed ‘soy yo! That’s me!’ And his mother grabbed me in the biggest bear hug I’ve ever had. To have that continuity and connection was really so magical. The stars and planets, everything was aligned.” 

Sandy Burnett

Volunteer Nurse

I’m glad we could vis­it Peru and help in this way. This is the mag­ic of Orbis and the work that we do, help­ing peo­ple to see again, and recov­er some­thing impor­tant –eye­sight and a real sense of dig­ni­ty– and the future that they’d lost. Jose has grown into such a nice, big, strong, tall man and will be able to con­tin­ue on bet­ter in life now that he has both eyes work­ing properly.

It’s because of volunteers like the wonderful Sandy Burnett that people like Jose can have their sight restored, and live life filled with sight!

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