Viva Mission Milagro!

When I first arrived at the Marina Hemmingway in Havana, Cuba last Monday,
the words emblazoned in neatly arranged stones on the lawn of the
hospital-hotel El Viejo y El Mar (The Old Man and the Sea) where I was
scheduled to be interned as an eye-surgery patient proclaimed "!Viva Mission
Milagro!" - Hurray for the Miracle Mission!

The Miracle Mission (Mission Milagro) is a humanitarian mission currently
being offered by Cuba to patients of all of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Anyone in any of these invited countries needing eye surgery is welcomed to
have that eye surgery performed here free or charge. To date, more than one
hundred thousand patients from Venezuela alone have been treated
successfully here. In my hospital-hotel alone, there are patients from
Belize, Guyana, Grenada and Honduras that I can ascertain.

There are many more hospital-hotels in Havana filled with patients here from
many of our neighboring countries for the same purpose.

In the lobby of our hospital-hotel where patients gather to socialize,
stories of many miracle surgeries abound. There is one such story of a woman
from Guyana who arrived completely blind in one eye, and with a "false" eye
where the second eye should be. After eleven years of blindness, she was
made to see again. This story could just as easily be a Belizean success

I believe that it would be a shame if our Belizean brothers and sisters who
most need this incredible act of kindness in their lives do not avail
themselves of the assistance being offered. In this regard, I will try to
expound on some aspects of the program that have not been circulated in the
media that I think are important to share. If you know someone who might
need eye surgery, please pass along the following information:

1. Any community with a sufficient number of patients (Caye Caulker and
Ladyville come quickly to mind) can request at the Cuban Embassy that the
screeners be sent to that particular location to ensure that the maximum
number of patients in that community are served.

2. Passports are not necessary for travel to Cuba on this mission. A photo
ID such as your social security card or driver's license is sufficient to
board you on the flight.

3. Each patient is allowed to bring an "accompanante" (companion) along to
help take care of him/her while he/she recuperates.

4. While patients are usually advised that the stay will be "one to two
weeks", if the doctors have to treat your diabetes first, then your high
blood pressure, then your hernia (or whatever other afflictions you might
have) before they can perform your eye surgery, your stay may be prolonged
beyond the two week period.

5. There is absolutely NO cost to the patient whatsoever to the patient or
the companion, other than the cost of you both getting to and from the
Phillip Goldson International Airport.

6. Be prepared to leave your habits such as drinking and smoking at home.
Once you are accepted into the program, you are considered a hospital
patient at all times and these habits are not allowed. Sightseeing on your
own is also not allowed as "patients" are here on a medical mission and not
for vacation purposes.

7. Medical mission aside, you will have an incredible opportunity to
socialize with other citizens of many countries. Remember that at all times
you are considered ambassadors of your country so please do try your best to
make us at home proud of your behavior.

Due to the arrival of Hurricane Wilma causing extreme time constraints for
me, I was only able to have surgery in one eye. Hopefully the mission will
allow me to return to Cuba in the near future to have the second eye
operated on. Better luck to you on your stay!

If you or someone you know is contemplating the mission, I say "Go for it!"
It is not every day that an act of kindness of this magnitude comes along.
Please send me your stories when you get back!