Hospital, Physicians and Community Again Come To Injured Man’s Aid

May 22, 2008

One Year After A Brain Operation Saved His Life, An Eye Operation Restores Normal Sight

One year ago, an Ecuadorian man in need of specialized medical care unavailable in his own country received an amazing gift: a complex and life-saving brain operation provided free of charge by University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP), its doctors and a visiting specialist from Pittsburgh.

Now, kind-hearted doctors on UMCP’s medical staff have again come to the man’s rescue, this time with an operation that restored his normal vision.

The prognosis for 27-year-old William Fernando Morocho Japa is excellent, according to ophthalmologist and UMCP medical staff member Michael Y. Wong, MD, who performed the eye operation on May 14 at a North Brunswick surgical center.

"He will be immeasurably better for the rest of his life for having done this," said Dr. Wong, who also wavied all costs for the procedure.

"I want to thank everyone involved in helping me come to the United States for the operation on my eye, and everyone involved in my care," Japa said through an interpreter. I'm very happy and every day my eyesight is getting better."

The medical odyssey that took Japa from Cuenca, Ecuador, to Central New Jersey began October 2006 with a serious car accident in his native country. His injuries included a potentially fatal intracranial aneurysm, a bulging, weakened wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. He also suffered nerve damage to his right eye known as Sixth Nerve Palsy which turned the eye inward so far that he could not see out of it.

The growing aneurysm -- with the potential to rupture and cause stroke or even death -- was the first concern. Japa’s doctors in Ecuador told him there was nothing they could do, but Japa’s relatives in Hightstown, New Jersey, refused to give up and began an effort to bring him to the United States for care. When officials from UMCP parent Princeton HealthCare System learned of Japa’s plight from the Hightstown community, they arranged for UMCP to take the case and assembled a team of doctors who agreed to donate their services.

The successful operation to repair the aneurysm took place at UMCP last June, the surgery performed by Michael Horowitz, MD, from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Doctors had hoped the procedure would also improve Japa’s eye, as the aneurysm had been pushing against the nerve affecting the eye, but as the months passed and Japa returned to Ecuador it became clear that a separate eye operation would be necessary.

Again faced with a lack of specialized care at home, Japa’s New Jersey relatives reached out once more to UMCP. The medical center brought Japa's case to the attention of Dr. Michael Wong, who readily agreed to help. Dr. Wong has a long history of providing humanitarian medical care and has participated in numerous medical missions providing eye care in remote and impoverished areas around the world. In 2006, Princeton HealthCare System recognized Dr. Wong with its Distinguished Physician Humanitarian Award.

"It's a wonderful part of why we are doctors," Dr. Wong said of his humanitarian efforts. "This is what doctors do, or should do. Doctors have no borders as far as these kinds of gestures go."

Last week’s surgical procedure, which lasted about one hour, is known as strabismus surgery. It involved isolating two extra-ocular muscles that controlled movement in Japa’s right eye, disconnecting them, straightening the eye back to its normal position, and then reattaching the muscles.

Dr. Wong also noted that the anesthesiologist for the eye operation, Dr. Edward Steinman, donated his services as well.

Others who played roles in Japa’s return to New Jersey included Mark R. McLaughlin, MD. Dr. McLaughlin, a neurosurgeon and the attending physician for Japa’s aneurysm operation last year, worked with the U.S. Consulate to get Japa a medical visa that enabled him to return.

Robbie Alexander, RN, program coordinator of Princeton HealthCare System's Community Education and Outreach Program, again coordinated with Japa’s relatives and advocates in Hightstown including Dr. David Abalos, PhD, a Latino community leader in the borough who first brought Japa’s plight to UMCP's attention last year.

Japa is recuperating at the home of a relative in Hightstown and is to return to Ecuador at the end of May.