Outreach Efforts Have Changed Many Lives

An interview with Alan S. Crandall, MD.

By Virginia Rainey

Physician, teacher, mentor, humanitarian—Alan S. Crandall, MD, combines all of these roles in his work as codirector of the Moran Eye Center’s Outreach Division. For this installment of Moran Minute, Virginia Rainey of the John A. Moran Eye Center Communication Department interviewed Dr. Crandall about some of his outreach work. Dr. Crandall is also a clinical professor, director of glaucoma and cataract services, and senior vice-chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Utah.

—Bala Ambati, MD, PhD, MBA, section editor

Question: You have been providing sight-saving surgeries to people in underserved areas in Utah and around the world for more than 20 years. What motivates you to reach out and give so much of your time?

Alan S. Crandall, MD: My father was an ophthalmologist—one of the first in Utah—and his philosophy was to treat everybody the same way. If people needed help, regardless of their circumstances, he was there for them. I remember him accepting a chicken or two as payment for surgery, so I grew up learning about compassion and giving back what I could.

When you realize that there are 39 million blind people worldwide, and that 90% of them live in the developing world, it’s clear that the need is overwhelming. The thing is, most blind people could be cured, but they just don’t have access to eye care.

Ethiopia, 2009. Dr. Crandall recalls, “Temezegan developed traumatic cataracts and lost sight in both eyes around the age of 1 or 2 years. His father, the mayor of the region, brought him to our outreach medical eye camp, where I performed surgery on both eyes. At the end of the day, when the first eye patch was removed, Temezegan’s first sight was of me leaning over him. He looked around, taking it all in, then looked back up, took my face in both of his hands and said, ‘You are my brother.’ I will never forgot that tearful, joyful moment.”

South Sudan, 2012. Dr. Crandall recalls, “It was the end of a surgery day, and we had wandered into the village of Duk Payuel to check on a few patients. The children would always run to us to play or have their pictures taken. This little one walked up to me and just took hold of my hand. No words. We just walked.”

Q: How did you first start doing humanitarian work, and how has the program at Moran grown?

Dr. Crandall: Years ago, one of my patients went to Ghana to find out about her family’s history in Africa. When she came back, she talked to me about the dire need for treatments to help reverse the epidemic of blindness caused by cataracts. So I said, what the heck, let’s go over there and see what we can do. We made contact with the KATH Hospital in Kumasi and started slowly, with just 10 to 15 surgeries. Every year since, we’ve gone back. We have trained their doctors by bringing them here to Moran.

From there, we created a program that now reaches more than 40 countries on six continents. In Utah, we are just beginning to make an impact on the Navajo Nation, where the need is also dire.

Q: How do you feel when you think of the impact you and the Outreach Division have had?

Dr. Crandall: To get to see and experience the happiness of a patient whose vision is restored brings me great joy. I also know that it allows that person to no longer be a burden to family and society. It returns dignity and purpose to his or her life. You can’t put a price on that.

We also get extreme satisfaction from teaching eye doctors from developing countries and bringing them to Moran for even more training so that they can go back home and train other doctors. That element is key—it changes everything. Our eventual goal, which usually takes about 10 to 15 years, is to no longer be needed. We’re no longer needed in Nepal, which is fantastic. We are close to not being needed in Ghana. It’s a great feeling to be able to be part of the team that made that happen. n

Section Editor Bala Ambati, MD, PhD, MBA
• Professor of ophthalmology, John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
• Director of cornea research, John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Alan S. Crandall, MD
• Professor, senior vice chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences, director of glaucoma and cataract and the Val A. and Edith D. Green Presidential Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
• Financial disclosure: consultant to Alcon, ASICO, and Mastel
• (801) 585-3071; alan.crandall@hsc.utah.edu Virginia Rainey

• Communications consultant, John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City