Louisville doctor does life-changing eye surgery in poor, dangerous countries

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Cornea Specialist Dr. Ali Haider is helping people see the world. "I did opthalmology, I did eye surgery so I could do this," Haider says. "How many surgeries can you go to countries with a briefcase of instruments and help people?"

Even as a medical student, Haider was making week-long trips to dangerous, developing nations to perform eye surgeries for hours each day. The week was composed of him going there, not sleeping for three nights in a row, sitting in a tent in a small room with flakes of paint falling from the ceiling and just working, non-stop from morning to night. "It's hard to take a break because when you want to have a break. You'll have some mom or some grandpa standing there trying to hold my hand saying, 'Can you see me?' or 'Can you see my child before you go?'"

Haider found the work rewarding but was frustrated knowing it stopped when he came home. And, that's how World Sight began. With the help of some prominent Louisville businessmen and Lions Club International, Haider began to establish eye clinics in developing countries--and he did it at very low cost.

He mentors eye doctors already working in those countries and recruits them to spend one weekend a month in a remote location. Patients with no money and no access to a hospital have their sight restored for free. World Sight pays the doctors roughly twenty dollars an eye.

"The greatest need is in places that are dangerous where no NGO wants to go and work," Haider says. "Nobody wants to go and work in Pakistan or Iraq where there are bombs going off every day."

Haider has been kidnapped in Iraq. He has had malaria three times. He is married with three young children and cannot get life insurance. He does it because those dangerous places are where the need is greatest. Haider's family collects change all year for him to take on his trips. After a surgery, he gives each patient five dollars--for medicine and sometimes just for food.

Haider says, "There's so much poverty and suffering, and you can't do anything about it. It's only increasing. It's not getting any better. But that doesn't mean we stop trying, you see. Our job is to still continue to do what we can as a human being."

Haider has now established remote eye clinics in Madagascar, Ghana, Pakistan, and Iraq and is about to open another clinic in Ethopia. But even that success hasn't slowed his own desire to go and work.

"Over there, I'm in. I go, fix their eye, and a lot of times they won't even see my face because I'm wearing a mask." Haider continues, "But, you know, in that, that you are helping someone without them knowing who and what you are, it's actually more gratifying."

This work has always been a part of Ali Haider; his father was the first physician in their part of Pakistan. He too would frequently treat patients with absolutely nothing to give in return.

"My dad," Haider says, "I don't ever see him come to me and say, 'Good job. I'm proud of you. You're helping people.' But, I can see it in his eyes that he knows I'm doing what's expected."

Haider believes all people could have this same approach.

"I believe everybody has a good heart. I bet you everybody around us, if they see the suffering of mankind, not through a tv channel...if they actually can see into the eye of an old man or a child who's picking food out of garbage, it will change them...for the good. Everybody. All of us," Haider says.

He says we just need to open our eyes to see where we can truly make a difference.

The World Health Organization estimates 285 million people in the world are visually impaired--almost all of them in underdeveloped countries--and some 80 percent of them could be cured.

We have information to put you in touch with World Sight here: www.worldsightnow.org  

Copyright 2013 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.