For the past 20 years, a California eye doctor has traveled to Fiji to provide free medical care, including delicate eye surgeries, for low-income Fijians. This April Dr. Jerry Beeve is leading a 20-member to the Fijian island of Vanua Levu.
A start with wedding anniversary
Jerry Beeve and his wife, Dorothy, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary at a resort in Fiji.
"And we loved the people. And this one gentleman was working in the garden we had to go by every day to get to the restaurant. He was about 65-years-old and I gave him my glasses," he said.
He later met the man's wife, whose eyesight was marred by serious cataracts.
"She put her hand down to shake my hand and missed me by about two feet. And that's what brought us over. We said, we're going to come over here, pass out glasses and do cataract surgery," said Beeve. "The first year, we did seven people, and last year we did 200 people, 200 major procedures."
It took two years to organize the first medical mission, which took place in 1991. Dorothy Beeve, a registered nurse, says conditions were basic.
"We did surgery in our bedroom with pouring rain outside, and we had our anesthesiologist and scrub tech, and myself," she said.
This year, more than 20 team members plan to spend eight days screening more than 2,000 patients at a hospital in Natuvu Creek, Fiji. The team will include American surgeons and optometrists from Australia. They will provide eyeglasses and do cataract surgery and corneal transplants.
Beeve says their medical missions have treated more than 25,000 people, more than three percent of Fiji’s population of nearly a million .
"We get in a taxicab in the big cities, and I'll tell them what my name is and they say, oh, you operated on my grandma," said Beeve. "And so they know exactly who you are right away. We've had some free tickets on taxicab rides."
Dear Lord, It's Jerry Again
Dr. Jerry Beeve with an eye patient in Fuji
The Beeves are members of the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, which has a history of medical missions. Beeve says he was not always the most regular of churchgoers, but has seen so many coincidences through his efforts in Fiji that he believes in the power of prayer. Through chance meetings, he was able to get free air transport for his medical supplies and equipment, and a Fijian acquaintance located a hard-to-find component for a broken microscope. He has written a book describing his experiences, called Dear Lord, It's Jerry Again.
Dorothy Beeve is in charge of logistics for the annual medical mission, working through a charity the couple created called the Beeve Foundation. She coordinates donations from drug companies, equipment purchases and transport.
"Every year, putting this together, it's a lot of stress, a lot of hard work, even before we go because we work all year long to get everything together, going to our different pharmaceutical companies and getting donations in to cover our costs," she said. "But once you get over there and see the joy that we bring to the patients, it's so rewarding. Because these people are in tears. After the patch comes off their eyes, they are just so happy, so delighted."
"A new lease on life"
Her husband says that patients get a new lease on life when their sight is restored.
"These people come in and they're blind. And their parents died blind. And they think this is what's going to happen to them. And you take that patch off, and they get all excited and their arms go way up, and you're going yes, this is so exciting," he said. "This is what brings up back year after year after year."
Jerry and Dorothy Beeve say they and their team members want to hug every patient, but don't have the time. There are too many people to see during long days of treatment and surgery that stretch from early morning till late evening, to make sure as many Fijians as possible get that new lease on life.