Carson City ophthalmologist Dr. Matti Vazeen is counting the days to his trip in March to Bangladesh – and it’s not for holiday.
Vazeen performs charitable cataract surgeries at Bangladesh Eye Hospital, along with lecturing beginner surgeons about cataract procedures at the Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute. He also will be introducing an updated version of his textbook to the seminars, as a part of his established teaching exchange program.
It’s been three years since he last visited the country in south Asia. Vazeen’s goal is to help enhance training and increase capacity at these institutions, on top of conducting 50 free surgeries at the hospital – in two weeks.
His program also is used at University of California, Davis, where he studied as an undergraduate.
“It takes 12 to 14 years to train beginning surgeons,” he said. “And some of those institutes don’t have the same level of training; residencies are paid to work in the states. But in Bangladesh, they have to come up with the money.”
Visual impairment is common in Bangladesh. According to Financial Express-Bangladesh news, at least 750,000 people in the country are blind and 600,000 are affected by cataracts.
And according to Vazeen, 340,000 patients visit the Bangladesh Eye Hospital each year. That’s about 100 surgeries per day.
“Primary care and access is an issue there,” he said. “The population is aging and to continually deliver that care is going to be a challenge in all areas.”
Locally, Vazeen said Carson City is an enclave of Nevada with the most advanced eye care. Including his staff of six at 1104 N. Division St., he said Carson City and Reno have four cataract surgeons as a whole, which attracts new patients from out-of-state. In Carson City overall, Vazeen and his staff performed at least 20,000 surgeries.
“The good thing about eyes is that they can see results,” he said. “They can’t fib results.”
Because of his commitment to charitable work and to his patients around the world, Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller – also a longtime patient – recognized Vazeen in November.
In the tribute, Heller describes Vazeen as a figure who “exemplifies the highest standards of leadership and should be proud of his hard work that highly benefits many Nevadans” and is “a true example of someone who has spent many years dedicated to the Silver State.”
This isn’t the first time Heller praised him. In June 2012, Heller flew the American flag over the capital to honor Vazeen on his birthday.
The flag and certificate are displayed in his office today, while artifacts from World War II occupy the rest of his shelves. He developed a fascination for collecting items over the years as many of his patients were veterans. A few of the items are gifts from patients.
Although many of those patients have died, Vazeen still sees two to three veterans a week.
“We’ve been doing this for a lot of years,” he said. “We are picking up the slack from World War II veterans.”
Even though he travels to pursue charitable work every few years, Vazeen’s heart is sold on Carson City. He moved to Northern Nevada in 1999 after studying at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and completing his residency at Louisiana State University.
Although he mainly loves Nevada for its skiing – hence his first job as a ski instructor at Heavenly after undergrad school – there’s more to it.
“This is the best place to be a doctor,” he said. “It’s a two-way street; it’s nice to be appreciated and our patients have been amazing.”
Vazeen is a first-generation eye doctor in his family and also is involved with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. He is married to Ashley Vazeen, a nurse practioner at Carson Surgical Group. They have two children, Cameron and Isabella.