Dr. Carey Rowan got to take in the wonders of the Amazon jungle during his recent trip to Colombia. What really mattered to this board-certified ophthalmologist, however, was what he helped others see.
As part of a philanthropic mission trip coordinated through Medical Ministry International, Rowan, who lives in Clearwater, joined a team of more than 50 doctors, nurses and other volunteers who administered critical vision care to thousands of people in the region. The team based its efforts in Colombia's southernmost town of Leticia, which allowed the crew to serve residents in Peru and Brazil as well.
"We helped a lot of people really see for the first time," said Rowan, 44, owner of the Rowan Eye Center in New Port Richey. "I saw people take their first look at their grandchildren. I saw their eyes open wide, I saw them smile as they looked around and saw the leaves on the trees, as they looked across the Amazon River for the first time."
From Jan. 13-26, Rowan and other volunteers distributed 5,000 pairs of glasses — many collected through the Lions Club — to those who needed them. They conducted 600 eye exams every day at a local hospital.
"Some people had never seen an eye doctor before," said Rowan. "They walked for hours to see us."
Some of these patients had very pressing needs. Rowan joined a team of five surgeons to conduct about 80 cataract surgeries on local residents.
As they were operating without some of their usual medical machinery, and on patients who had advanced vision problems, these surgeries posed a special challenge for Rowan, a veteran surgeon with 14 years of experience. But Rowan said it was this kind of challenge that first inspired him to embark on this mission trip.
A local sponsor of numerous sports teams and donor to Lions Clubs in the area, Rowan also recently co-sponsored and swam in the Navy Seal Frogman Race, the proceeds of which went to families who lost loved ones in military combat or training. Still, he was always on the lookout for other ways to help.
"I've always heard in church that we should use our time, talent and treasure to help others," he said. "I always wondered, 'What else can I do?' "
In seeking that opportunity, Rowan turned to a special source for inspiration: his father, Dr. Patrick Rowan, who founded Rowan Eye Center in 1982.
It was the elder Rowan who took his 15-year-old son on his first medical mission trip, to the Dominican Republic. Serving as an assistant on this first trip, the younger Rowan went on to complete more medical mission trips to Mexico, Honduras and India.
Now the Clearwater man hopes to continue in his father's footsteps, returning to the Amazon once a year. In the future he hopes to bring his wife Pamela and their three sons, Reilly, Hudson and Sloan, to show them the great happiness that comes from helping others.
"Helping people like this is addicting," he said. "You just have to go back and do more."