Orbis Flying Eye Hospital first time volunteer faculty Dr. Bradford Lee

Q&A with Dr. Bradford Lee: First-Time Volunteer Faculty

May 2019

Oculoplastics surgeon Dr. Bradford Lee joined the Orbis family in March 2019 to share his top class skills with local eye doctors from across the Caribbean. The former Cellist and Pianist works at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami, Florida. We sat down with him in Kingston to find out more about his first experience with Orbis.

Orbis: What are your first impressions of volunteering with Orbis?

Dr. Bradford Lee: It's really an incredible opportunity to meet the Orbis family with people coming from all over the world — it’s really a multicultural organization — but also to make new friends and colleagues here in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Everybody is so engaged and so interested in learning, so thirsty for new knowledge so it's really a pleasure to work with people who are motivated to acquire new skills to help their communities.

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital first time volunteer faculty Dr. Bradford Lee training local eye care teams

Dr. Bradford Lee trains local eye care professionals in Jamaica

Orbis: Can you tell us about your experience giving lectures and performing surgeries on the aircraft?

Dr. Bradford Lee: It's something that's pretty neat because we are used to talking during surgery obviously and I teach my fellows in the operating room. Here, you're talking to someone outside of the operating room — and you know that there's a classroom on the other end. Not only that, people who are tuning in, it's coming to them via their computers across the world. So it's definitely a new feeling and maybe like you’re performing a little bit more. But I used to be a musician and performed a lot so it's nothing really new or uncomfortable for me.

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital first time volunteer faculty Dr. Bradford Lee performing a sight-saving surgery

Leading a sight-saving surgery on our Flying Eye Hospital

Orbis: Please tell us more about oculoplastics and how it can prevent blindness

Dr. Bradford Lee: We say that the eyelids are the guardians of the eye. There's an intimate relationship between the eyelids and the ocular surface. So if you have lids that don't close, lids that are flipped inwards, lids that are flipped outwards, it can literally compromise the eye to the point where you could have erosions of the cornea and infections which make you literally lose your eye.

However, I think we always think as ophthalmologists about giving sight back. And certainly in oculoplastics, we’re not always giving sight back. But I think that beyond the visual function of the eyes, is that eyes are so vital to our appearance and how we communicate with people and our sense of identity. And in some cases, helping people to be able to feel normal and whole — like the person that we used to be before some type of disfiguring trauma occurred. Surgery in these cases can be just as meaningful even if they don’t necessarily bring vision back. Instead, it helps the person to psychologically move on and have normal social interactions.

The eyes are really the most important part of our face. We use them to communicate with people, beyond their role as just organs of sight, sensory organs. They represent so much of our identity, our facial identity and who we are as people.

Dr. Bradford Lee

Oculoplastics surgeon, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami

Orbis: It sounds like you’re familiar with the stage and performing in front of people and relaying as a musician would. How is medicine different? What took you from music to medicine?

Dr. Bradford Lee: Music was always a hobby for me and something that I did very seriously before. But I guess if you think about what are the commonalities, you can communicate and engage and interact with people from many different cultures, whether it’s through music — which is a language without words — or through medicine, which everyone can relate to.

Health and minimizing suffering, restoring vision, or alleviating pain and disfigurement. These are all universal things, and really amazing ways that we can connect with people. Also to connect as a team. I used to play in an orchestra and people from very different backgrounds from across different countries and communities would all come together in the same way that we do here.

The Orbis team is like a small scale medical orchestra, if you will, and we are all doing our role. Together we can make music, deliver eye care and fix people's eyelids and the faces. That’s the way I look at it.

Dr. Bradford Lee

Oculoplastics surgeon, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital first time volunteer faculty Dr. Bradford Lee with a little patient in Jamaica

The former musician enjoys the thought of the impact he can make in people's lives

Orbis: Why did you go into ophthalmology?

Dr. Bradford Lee: The original reason I went into ophthalmology was because it's such a cool sensory organ, vision is so precious. You know, the usual answers you'd probably hear from most ophthalmologists you’d talk to. But I guess for me, why did I go into oculoplastics surgery? I loved that the eyelids and the face are so much a part of our human identity. It's a very artistic subspecialty — I think of it as literally sculpting people's faces. And putting them back together, making them look whole again. And it requires a lot of creativity. It's part art and part science, which kind of plays to my love for the arts, visual arts, performing and musical arts.

When we think about blindness, again I think that what we do as ophthalmologists and oculoplastics surgeons is sight preservation — restoring sight is a huge part of what we do. But there were various patients who we took care of on this Jamaica project who we did not bring any vision back to, but I would arguably say we made a very important impact in their lives through the reconstruction surgeries.

Dr. Bradford Lee

Oculoplastics surgeon, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami

Orbis Flying Eye Hospital first time volunteer faculty Dr. Bradford Lee with a young patient in Jamaica

Dr. Bradford Lee screens one of his patients in Jamaica

Orbis: What will you remember the most about your time in Jamaica?

Dr. Bradford Lee: There was a 20-year-old boy who was unfortunately involved in a motorcycle accident. He had severe scarring of the eyelid and the muscle that lifts his eyelid was completely severed, making his one eye completely shut. His mother told me that he comes into the clinic here wearing a towel over his head. If you can imagine an otherwise normal socially active 20-year-old boy who now wears a towel over his head in public, in places, to be able to have is eye open up again and to have him look like he did before.

That's such a huge part of his interactions with his family, the public, his potential to work and being able to find a partner in life. Being able to help someone like that is tremendous. But it's really not giving him vision back. Actually in his case it was, because his lid was completely closing down over his eye. So lifting his lid allowed him to see out of that eye a bit more. He did have sight in the eye, but it goes so far beyond that in terms of his sense of identity, self confidence and social interactions in the world around him.

Dr. Lee, many thanks for your creative choice of words describing your very first experience with us. And above all, thank you for donating your valuable time to help improve the quality of eye care across the Caribbean region. It was an absolute pleasure to have you on board.