Title: Ophthalmologist and Ophthalmic Surgeon
Hospitals: White Plains Hospital, Westchester Medical Center
Dr. Steven Zabin has long been changing lives, both in Westchester and far abroad. In fact, the Westmed ophthalmologist specializing in cataract surgery and intraocular lens implants just returned from a trip to the remote mountain villages of Nepal, where he restored sight to some profoundly disadvantaged patients.
“In 1992, an organization was formed called Himalayan HealthCare,” explains Zabin, who in addition to his work at Westmed, serves on the faculty at New York Medical College. “I was introduced to it in 1994 and again this past April, I was part of a medical mission — including dentists, cardiologists, internists, nurses, and another ophthalmologist who trekked three and a half days into, and then out of, the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal — to provide medical and surgical care to primitive villages where there was no electricity or running water.”
When Zabin and his colleagues first arrived, the conditions were unlike any medical center in America. “As we walked into the village after days of trekking, the local villagers were putting the final touches on a mud hut that was to be used as the operating room,” he recalls. “Plastic sheets from large rolls were applied to the walls, ceiling, and floor to keep the room as clean as possible. Sherpas [porters] carried all the equipment. The facilities were primitive at best, and the local people, although very kind and appreciative, were extraordinarily ignorant regarding their own hygiene and health.”
The locals Zabin and the other medical professionals served were therefore some of the most in need of their aid. “The patients I operated on in Nepal never had access to any eye care prior to our arrival and, unfortunately, their cataracts had become so far advanced that most of the patients upon whom we operated were already legally blind,” says Zabin.
“It truly is a miracle that someone can go from being legally blind to seeing 20/20 after a 10-minute procedure.”
“We were not able to transport some of the larger modern machines that are used in the United States, so older and slower techniques for surgical removal of the cataracts were employed. Many of the elderly or frail patients were carried on the backs of their stronger relatives for several days to get to our health post, since there are no roads or vehicles.”
Yet the difficult conditions only enhanced Zabin’s appreciation for his work in Westchester. “The experience, which was both challenging and humbling, reinforced for me how universal the basic need for good functional eyesight is and how incredibly fortunate we are here in the ‘First World’ of Westchester and Fairfield Counties to have the most modern equipment and expertise available to us,” says Zabin. “It truly is a miracle that someone can go from being legally blind to seeing 20/20 after a 10-minute procedure.”
The Nepali patients who were legally blind before Zabin’s cataract surgery “were then able to function more independently after the successful surgery and were able to go back to working in the fields to help support their families and neighbors,” shares Zabin. “We also helped teach the Nepali ophthalmology students the more modern techniques for eye care.”
When he is not curing ailments in distant locales, Zabin is performing ophthalmological surgery at the Westmed Rye location or taking appointments in Yonkers and White Plains. Additionally, Zabin spends a half-day each month teaching and supervising residents in the ophthalmology clinic at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and takes care of the ophthalmic medical and surgical needs of the inmates in the NYS Department of Corrections in the Hudson Valley.
“I have been an ophthalmologist for 37 years, and not a day has gone by that I am not reminded by at least one of my patients how important retaining or improving one’s eyesight is,” says Zabin. “All it takes is the smile from a patient when his or her patch is removed following cataract surgery to remind me why I do what I do.”