Giving Sight In Ghana

dow _ghana, blindness
In many places around the globe, basic healthcare we often take for granted is simply out of reach. CBS News correspondent Harold Dow traveled to the African nation of Ghana to see firsthand how one group is using modern medicine to make a difference in hundreds of lives.

"Dear God," Daniel Adarkwa said in a song of prayer, "please help us."

Six years ago his mother abandoned him and his younger sister in the woods of Ghana because they were both blind. They were only 11 and 8 years old.

For three months they drank rain water and ate food from a nearby garden until a passerby brought them to an orphanage.

"I have never met someone more hopeful and more grateful for the small things in life," said Susan Vallese, founder of an organization known as Our Children International. She was moved by Daniel's story.

Vallese brought Daniel to the United States last year hoping doctors could give him sight. "What he wanted most of all was to be able to take care of his sister. That's all he said," Vallese explained. "When he gained sight, he wanted to be her eyes."

Hoping to help hundreds of blind children like Daniel, Vallese spent a year raising money. She collected medical supplies from hospitals and drug companies and convinced 15 doctors and nurses to join Our Children International on a weeklong medical mission to Ghana.

The mission was supposed to be for children, but the scene the doctors encountered when they arrived at Cape Coast Hospital was daunting as scores of people gathered to receive medical care. So where does one begin? "You begin at the beginning of the line and you work your way around," said Dr. Jill Stoller, a pediatrician on the mission.

Within hours the doctors -- who charged nothing for their services -- were treating dozens of ear infections, toothaches, and screening children with cleft lips.

But the group's main mission is treating blindness. "I'm overwhelmed by the number of patients we have," said Dr. Osvaldo Lopez, an eye surgeon.

As many as 15,000 children in this West African nation suffer from blindness. They often lose their sight when they are bitten by mosquitoes that live in polluted river water.

One of the patients, Emanuela, is only eight, but her eyes have been infected for five years. A corneal transplant is her only hope -- but it's not available in Ghana. "I wish I could have seen her five years ago," said Osvaldo.

During their week in Ghana, the volunteer doctors treated hundreds, and operated on 58 patients. They restored sight to dozens of children who had not seen for years.

But not everyone could be treated. Daniel, for one, still cannot see -- his retinas are too damaged and can't be repaired. But his hope -- that the children of Ghana finally get medical care -- has been realized.

The doctors will return to Ghana next year. In that way, Daniel's prayer has been answered.

For more information about Our Children International, including how you can help, check out their Web site.