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“I’ve had more than my share of moments when I thought I was going to die for sure,” Tabin says. “Avalanches and rockfalls that would have squashed me like an ant under a shoe have missed me by inches. And there have been innumerable times when the skills of more talented partners have kept me alive. I think surviving these scrapes in the mountains has made me more determined to enjoy every second that I’m here, and more willing to take risks in other areas, like medicine.”

Higher Calling

In 1993, Tabin was offered a fellowship in corneal surgery at Melbourne University in Australia, with Hugh Taylor, one of the world’s most renowned ophthalmologists. As part of Tabin’s training, Taylor sent him to work in Nepal with a maverick surgeon named Sanduk Ruit. “I didn’t know that much about Ruit,” Tabin says, “but I figured if it didn’t work out, I’d at least have a chance to sneak away to the mountains.”

Meeting Ruit changed Tabin’s life. Born in a mountain village without a school near Nepal’s Tibetan border, Ruit, the son of an illiterate salt trader, won a scholarship to the top medical school in India through sheer intellectual horsepower. After graduation, he had his choice of lucrative jobs. But he stubbornly moved his family to a small apartment over a photo shop in Kathmandu, built the world-class Tilganga Eye Centre, and set to work battling what he considered his country’s most pressing medical need: an epidemic of preventable blindness.

Cataracts—a clouding of the lens of the eye—typically afflict only the aging in wealthy nations. But in Nepal, as in most developing countries, the condition plagues the entire population, from infants to the elderly. Poor nutrition, physical trauma, unfiltered exposure to UV rays, all lead to cataract disease. More than half of the treatable blindness on Earth is caused by cataracts. The challenge is inventing a cost-effective way to deliver a surgical procedure that costs $3,000 in America to people in the world’s poorest and most remote places. By developing a vastly simplified (but no less effective) operation and manufacturing his own artificial lenses at a factory in Nepal, Ruit pioneered a way to do First World–quality cataract surgery for under $20 a patient. And together, he and Geoff Tabin packed surgical microscopes onto horses or the tops of buses and began conducting high-volume eye surgery camps.

In the 15 years since Ruit and Tabin formed the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), their organization has helped restore sight to more than 500,000 people in Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, India, Bhutan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and North Korea. “Sanduk’s the genius behind what we do,” Tabin says, with more modesty than accuracy. “I’m someone with the ability to make things happen.”

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  • Tabin is a hero. Climbing 7 Summits is impressive, but it doesn't change anyone's life. My hat's off…
  • CNN Hero of the Year 2010!
  • a man with great mission. thank you for what you have done in ethiopia.
  • I am speechless and in awe!!!I am a teacher and will share this fantastic article with the nursing s…
  • This is what America is all about. Dr. Tabin left made me a proud American. Kudos, to his wife and…
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