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Clinic Day 6: An Einstein Researcher’s Mission to Micronesia

By on 05/01/2017

Adele Schneider, MD, director of Clinical Genetics at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, is leading a team of genetic researchers and vision experts on the island of Weno, part of Chuuk State in the nation of Micronesia, hoping to learn what they can about the genetic underpinnings of anophthalmia/microphthalmia (A/M), which causes blindness. They also hope to try to determine whether certain environmental factors might contribute to A/M, and to provide badly needed ophthalmological services.

Dr. Schneider is blogging from Weno during her stay.  This is her final installment.

Today is our last clinic and, sadly, our last day with our Chuukese friends. The team has become one unified group working seamlessly and enjoying conversations during down time. These chats have been important for us to learn more about Chuukese culture and the different islands of Micronesia’s Chuuk State. We feel very connected to our Chuukese colleagues and sorry that they and we live so far away. We hope we will return in the not-too-distant future to discuss and implement next steps, once we have identified the genetic cause of their disorder and determined whether Vitamin A deficiency plays a role here in Chuuk.

Our hosts have been more than gracious in offering their thanks in so many ways. Bill and Kiki Stinnett, owners of the Truk Stop Hotel, held a dinner with the whole team, including our video crew. Our appreciation and theirs was clear.

Last night Ansina Kony and her Department of Special Education with our other hosts, Dr. Anamaria Yomai, Kathy Mori and Chelsea Phillip, gave us an amazing dinner at Kurassa. We had dinner inside a lovely hall that had a photo of the Mori ancestor who came to Chuuk from Japan a long time ago and stayed.  Now there is a large extended family in Chuuk. The food prepared was enough for an army and was excellent. They even had locally caught lobsters!

We were all given gifts. From the Department of Public Health, we received a Chuukese wood mask. From Special Education, a hat made from coconut straw and a lovely shell lei. It is hard to explain the impact of this trip on the team members. Each of us has expressed how they have loved working with the Chuukese team and feels a need to do more, and perhaps come back.

We feel so connected to the people we have met and to the Chuukese families who came to participate in the research. It has been a real love fest! Having Steve and Justin McCarthy, our video crew, along also added another layer of better conversations because of Steve’s curiosity to record this clinic in detail and to understand some of the complex genetics as well as the intricacies of how we navigate a different culture here in Chuuk. I think for all of us this trip and the clinics as well as our new relationships exceeded our expectations.

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