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In the News: 'Blindness Outruns 7-Minute Solution'

Cataract surgery takes about seven minutes; yet, cataracts are the No. 1 cause of treatable blindness worldwide. The following story about Dr. John Berdahl ‘99, a Sioux Falls ophthalmologist, and his discussion on “Eliminating Blindness in our World” at the Augustana Thought Leader Forum appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 15, issue of the Argus Leader:

Blindness outruns 7-minute solution
Cataract problem grows in Third World
By Jill Callison, Argus Leader

Dr. John Berdahl can perform a seven-minute surgery to restore vision lost to cataracts.

But that happens in this country, when a person comes to his office at Vance Thompson Vision.

Not everyone can make that trip.

"There's another world out there, and it's the Third World," Berdahl said.

That is why he periodically takes his skills to developing nations. He has restored the vision of people whose eyesight has been destroyed by cataracts through medical missions.

Berdahl spoke Friday at Augustana College's Thought Leader Forum at CJ Callaway's.

"Every day more people in the Third World go blind from cataracts than there are people with the ability to take them out," Berdahl said.

"So tomorrow there's going to be more people blind with cataracts than there are today."

He has removed cataracts from the eyes of people who hadn't seen the face of their spouse - or their own visage - for 10 years, Berdahl said.

"We have a seven-minute solution for cataract surgery ... to permanently fix cataracts and we can't implement that to give (the blind person and the caregiver)."

What is needed, Berdahl said, is a "pyramid scheme," one that has a positive outcome when one surgeon teaches a procedure to four others, and those four teach it to another four, and so on.

Berdahl also talked about the research he has done on glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

He was scuba diving when he came up with a theory that involves the pressure right behind the eye.

In a study of 62,000 patient charts, he did find that brain pressure was lower in people with glaucoma. Studies in Germany and China have repeated those results, and his theory is gaining traction, Berdahl said.

"If it turns out to be wrong, well, fine, we took a swing and we tried to figure out what the answer is," he said.

Berdahl's work makes clear the difference in health care around the world, said Augustana President Rob Oliver.

"Those of us lucky enough to be in the United States have such great care," he said. "The rest of the world is not so lucky."

Dr. Dave Kruse, an optometrist from Jackson, Minn., said Berdahl's research into glaucoma could change his field.

"No one up to this point has known a reason," Kruse said. "If he can figure it out, it will change the entire way we treat glaucoma. Right now all we do is treat the eye pressure. We might want to try to raise the cranial pressure in the brain."