Dr. Gordillo's urgent work saving the sight of premature babies continues

May 2020

We have a wonderful Mother's Day story about an Orbis partner who is committed to helping premature babies avoid living a life of unnecessary blindness, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Dr. Luz Gordillo has worked hard to get the Peruvian health authorities to acknowledge and treat premature babies at risk of blindness due to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity. She is the country's leading specialist having dedicated much of her life to this sub-specialty.

With Retinopathy of Prematurity, timing is everything. Premature babies must be screened and treated as early possible, making it crucial that her work continues.

Governments have put in place social distancing practices, but babies will continue to be born and will still need postnatal care. It's well known that stress conditions can prompt pre-term birth, and ophthalmology experts and the Peruvian government agree that treating these babies is an emergency medical effort.

Dr. Gordillo has bravely continued caring for pre-term babies, who are at urgent risk of going blind from the oxygen treatment they often need to save their lives, even at risk to her own safety.

Dr. Gordillo practices in a number of public hospitals, the farthest being two-hours away by car. But now, with government roadblocks checking non-essential traffic, her daily practice of medicine has become increasingly difficult.

To be able to drive to her patients, Dr. Luz carries a card from the government explaining that she's a doctor with the right to proceed. But the roadblocks are everywhere, eating up time that she needs to treat babies at risk of losing their vision. She can get stopped countless times just on one trip. Sometimes she has to take roads other than the fastest ones, increasing the pressure on these urgent cases.

I believe babies have the right to sight, especially those from low-income families born in public hospitals.

Dr. Luz Gordillo

Dr. Gordillo faces another difficulty: lack of equipment. While she has been able to find the special gown and hat she needs for protection, she carries her own mask and does not have goggles. And supplies are becoming scarce. Meanwhile she's treating babies who might have the virus, even while she is in the population at higher risk of developing COVID-19 complications herself.

"We recently received a patient where the mother was COVID positive," Dr. Luz says. "So she had to be isolated from the baby. Hers was one of the six babies in the neo-natal intensive care unit. So the baby needed to be isolated too because we didn't know if he caught it. The baby has been tested but we do not yet have the results."

She will screen the baby for Retinopathy of Prematurity, but hopes he is negative because she is putting herself at risk. She has to take extra precautions and change her protective gear between treating this baby and the other babies, which uses up scarce supplies.

​Dr. Gordillo screening pre-term babies

"Some doctors in Peru are simply not using masks, dresses, covers," Dr. Gordillo says. "There are not a lot of tests. There are not a lot of doctors. Nobody knows who is infected and who is not. Also, hospitals don't have ventilator equipment." The coronavirus is putting an extraordinary strain on all medical systems, but particularly ones that were less strong to begin with.

Ordinary people feel the strain too, Dr. Gordillo said. Peru recently placed severe limits on people's activity in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Men can go out only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Women can go out Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. People can only go out for essentials like food and medicine. No one can go out on Sundays.

"Because of the isolation requirement, and because mothers are recovering from birth, and because they can't take the babies to go out to get supplies, finding diapers, milk, and all is an extra hassle," said Dr. Gordillo. "In the hospitals, mothers have limited contact with their newborns because of virus control measures. Many babies could be infected but we do not know."

If Dr. Gordillo gets infected she might not have access to the type of medical care she needs, but she's continuing to help because she knows how important vision is to the life of these babies.

Dr. Gordillo is a hero that Orbis is proud to have on our team.

Emergency work continues, but only with the help of supporters like you. Please join us in the urgent fight to help save sight in these difficult times.

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