Into Africa: Clinic brings eye care

October 15, 2008

Like many ophthalmologists in this country, Cathy Schanzer, MD, feels a responsibility to share her talents and skills to help the less fortunate through mission work. Dr. Schanzer, however, was not satisfied with a yearly mission trip. Today, she devotes her spare time to supporting and working 2 months each year at the eye clinic she established in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

As a young physician, Dr. Schanzer left a multi-specialty group in Houston and went to Memphis, TN, when her husband's career moved. She began and built her own practice there in 1990. Currently, she works with a retina specialist, three optometrists, and another anterior segment surgeon who just joined the practice.

"I was prepared to go alone, but Tom wasn't comfortable with that," she said. "He went with me and worried the whole time there that we'd be killed in Nigeria by the soldiers everywhere who were carrying large guns and demanding safe passage fees.

"We survived, of course, and this was our first incredible mission experience of many that would occur over the next 20 years," she said.

"We met a man from Sierra Leone in Memphis," Dr. Schanzer said. "When the war in Sierra Leone ended, he said I should go to his country to help."

She did go and found an existing Methodist compound there to work from, but she also met an influential Catholic archbishop who wanted this Catholic ophthalmologist to help the people in his remote village of Serabu.

Dr. Schanzer, a devout Catholic, took this critique of her faith seriously and set to work.