UC Davis eye surgeon brings vision to El Salvador

Dr. Mannis © Geoff Oliver Bugbee / ORBIS
A "flying eye hospital" allowed Professor Mark Mannis to provide sight-restoring treatment in El Salvador. Photograph courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee/ ORBIS.

Posted Sept. 5, 2012

The humanitarian act of cornea donation — a gift from a donor to recipient — went worldwide recently, with the help of Mark J. Mannis, ocular director for Sierra Donor Services and its parent company, DCI Donor Services. Mannis is also professor and chair of ophthalmology and vision science and director of the Eye Center at UC Davis Health System.

Mannis traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador, with two corneas recovered through Sierra Donor Services as well as corneas from other eye banks around the U.S. The visit was part of the Flying Eye Hospital sponsored by ORBIS International and FedEx Corp.

A fully-equipped, flying hospital

The Flying Eye Hospital is a specially outfitted DC-10 jet aircraft that allows local doctors, nurses and technicians to work alongside an international medical team to conduct sight-restoring surgeries and to exchange knowledge and improve skills. The mobile teaching hospital is a unique tool in the fight against preventable blindness in developing countries.

Mannis participated in a week-long comprehensive skills exchange program aimed at strengthening the field of corneal surgery and raising awareness of eye care related conditions in El Salvador. In the four days of surgery on the Flying Eye Hospital, Mannis performed 11 corneal transplants and provided surgical instruction to his El Salvadoran assistants. In addition, he lectured on corneal surgery in the jetliner's 48-seat classroom at the front of the plane.

"Many talented and compassionate people were involved in helping to give the people of Central America the gift of sight," Mannis said. "We are all working to fight treatable and preventable blindness around the globe. Through the Flying Eye Hospital Program, we offered skills-exchange opportunities to a wide range of eye health-care professionals, while focusing on the development of pediatric ophthalmology, an area of great need in El Salvador."

A global leader in treating eye disease

Mannis is a visionary leader and international authority on corneal transplantation and external diseases of the eye whose 30-year commitment to public service has tremendously advanced eye-banking and tissue-donation services and medical education in the United States and throughout the world, especially in Latin America. His efforts to increase the number of high-quality ocular tissues available for transplant, as well as the number of ophthalmologists and technicians trained in the latest corneal transplant and eye-banking methodologies, have enabled thousands of individuals with blinding eye diseases around the globe to receive the gift of sight.

Under Dr. Mannis' leadership, the UC Davis Eye Center has become one of the nation's top academic centers that combines the very highest quality vision health-care services with cutting-edge ophthalmic science for the treatment of all forms of medical and surgical eye disease. Dr. Mannis exemplifies UC Davis' institutional commitment to combining academic excellence with social responsibility and leadership to transform health care.

Dr. Mannis peforming eye surgery © Geoff Oliver Bugbee / ORBIS
During four days of surgery, Mannis performed corneal transplants and provided surgical instruction to his El Salvadoran assistants. Photograph courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee / ORBIS.

Sierra Donor Services (SDS) is a nonprofit agency dedicated to meeting the needs of the community by providing families the option of organ and tissue donation for transplantation and research. SDS serves northern Nevada and inland Northern California, including Sacramento. As a division of the DCI Donor Services family, SDS is one of four locations that includes DCI Donor Services Tissue Bank, Tennessee Donor Services and New Mexico Donor Services. For more information, visit: sierradonor.org

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all.