It’s all about focus in Dr. Devin Gattey’s world – focusing his time and talent on others so they can focus on seeing the world around them. As an ophthalmologist for Lake Oswego’s Oregon Eye Specialists, P.C., his mission is to bring sight and clear vision to as many people as he possibly can. That passion has taken him around the globe for the past 19 years. Most recently to Ethiopia in partnership with the Himalayan Cataract Project (CureBlindness.org ), a pioneering, non-profit organization “working to eliminate preventable and curable blindness throughout the developing world.”

Dr. Gattey is grateful to share his skills and knowledge and work with a program he believes delivers the most effective eye care to under-served areas of the world. Ethiopia has a population of nearly 100 million people yet has fewer than 200 ophthalmologists. Dr. Gattey and a team of five Ethiopian surgeons planned to do 300-400 surgeries at a recent surgery outreach in the city of Shire, Ethiopia, but the need was so great they had to recruit another doctor and more supplies to meet it. They operated for six days and removed 636 cataracts. In total, Dr.
Gattey has personally removed around 1,000 cataracts since beginning his outreach work in
2000.

He hasn’t always had his eye on being an ophthalmologist. Out of college, he wanted to be a fish farmer. Lack of experience thwarted that goal. What he has never lacked, however, was a heart for helping others. His girlfriend at the time (now his wife, Becca) convinced him to join her as a Peace Corps volunteer. Applying his biochemistry degree, Dr. Gattey was sent to Nepal to
work in freshwater pond aquaculture growing carp. It was there he found access to basic healthcare a problem for villagers.

During his time in Nepal, Dr. Gattey met two Swedish doctors who were doing an eye-care project that piqued his interest. He knew he needed a practical skill, so after the Peace Corps, he went to medical school. Dr. Gattey made a fortuitous connection with a mentor (an obstetrician) who highlighted the great need for cataract removal in the developing world and encouraged him to consider a career in ophthalmology. His fate was sealed.

Dr. Gattey accepted an ophthalmology residency at OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute (CEI) and joined the faculty right after his training. He investigated how to use ophthalmology in a humanitarian way and discovered the Aravind Eye Care System in India. Dr. Gattey volunteered
his services there in 2005 and learned a surgical technique that wasn’t taught in the US. When he became a professor at CEI, he taught the technique and took some of his students on international surgical outreach trips with him.

Dr. Gattey is so passionate about supporting Ethiopian training programs that last year, with the help of his Lake Oswego patients and friends, he raised $16,000 to purchase needed equipment for an assistant professor of Ophthalmology at Aksum Medical School located in a remote NW corner of Ethiopia. Dr. Gattey says, “the most important component of this outreach
is that we’re trying to make a life-long connection and encourage Dr. Tesfalem to stay in academics and continue to train future Ethiopian ophthalmologists.” He plans to continue his
collaboration with the Himalayan Cataract Project in their capacity-building outreaches.

Dr. Gattey says the average case in Ethiopia is harder than the hardest case he does all year here at home. Most Ethiopians have never seen an eye doctor. Surgeries there can be very complex and difficult. Cataract removal has a ripple effect throughout villages. Many villagers are blind in both eyes and need to be led around by family members. Surgery allows these patients to be able to care for themselves, sometimes after many years of living in the dark. “Ophthalmology is a great specialty because it can enhance the quality of life for patients and their caregivers,” said Dr. Gattey.

Dr. Gattey and his wife plan on going back yearly. Next trip, he’d like to bring the necessary equipment that will serve many patients who get ‘secondary’ cataracts. His goal this year is to raise $25,000 and take a specialty laser with him that can remove them. “Doing this brings me personal satisfaction, but it also helps me interact and connect with my patients who contribute money to the project,” Dr. Gattey said.

Dr. Gattey knows he is a life changer. He is touched by the joy of helping someone see who has been blind for five or ten years. There is a personal reward for him. “There’s a momentary and intense connection you get knowing that you helped this person see better for the rest of their life. They’re singing, crying, and overcome with emotion. Instead of being paid money, I get paid in song,” Dr. Gattey said. In his mind, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Oregon Eye Specialists, P.C. has moved from Mercantile Village and is now located at 9 Monroe Parkway, Suite 160 (office building above New Seasons). Dr. Gattey is accepting new patients and can be reached at (503) 636-2551.
Article written By Kelly Bishop

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