Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives

Nursing Book Club

Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives

By David Oliver Relin (Random House, 2013)
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Reviewed By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN

When I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued, but thought that only extremely boastful ophthalmologists could believe that they were actually saving lives. I quickly learned how wrong I was.

Second Suns, written by David Oliver Relin, coauthor of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea, is the inspiring story of two very different men raised in very different worlds who ultimately found a common goal and together built the means to achieve it.

Privilege and Poverty

Geoffrey Tabin, M.D., was a gifted young man whose early life seemed to revolve around setting ever-greater challenges for himself and never really being satisfied with his results. Born into an affluent family, he had the means to become a mountaineer and professional tennis player while simultaneously pursuing a medical career.

On a Mt. Everest climb in 1988, Tabin became intrigued with the idea of medicine in the mountains and made the treatment of climbers and their ills his newest goal.

Sanduk Ruit, M.D., came from an impoverished family in Olangchungola, a Nepali village in the Himalayas. Ruit’s family understood the value of education and encouraged him, at the age of 7, to make a perilous two-week trek through mountain passes to attend boarding school. Ruit rose to meet the expectations of his family and his entire village, eventually becoming a doctor of ophthalmology.   

A Common Goal

Ruit had seen first hand that blindness was a virtual death sentence in mountain communities. Not only could the blind easily fall victim to many types of accidents, in villages like Ruit’s, the blind often suffered acute isolation due to an inability to engage in family activities and other aspects of everyday life.             

Furthermore, rural mountainous communities had little access to medical care, which meant that people who lost their sight due to cataracts or other illnesses had no hope of improvement.

Ruit’s goal was to improve cataract surgery, making it possible to treat more people and make that treatment available to patients who previously had no way to access or afford it. He set out to bring his surgical skills to patients who could not come to him.

Fate brought Tobin and Ruit together. The two doctors joined forces to build a hospital, establish a mobile unit and change both the way cataract surgery was performed and the equipment needed to perform it. Those improvements allowed Tobin and Ruit to save thousands of lives — first across the rugged terrain of Nepal and then, by educating other doctors with similar goals, in other parts of Asia and Africa.

Medical Missions

Second Suns is a feel-good story that has the reader hooked from the beginning. If you have ever been tempted to join a medical mission, this story will have you signing on the dotted line in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, this book will also help you realize just how much support is necessary to make such trips successful. The cost, financial and otherwise, is high, but the spiritual rewards can be great.

Second Suns also offers an introduction to the geography and politics of this region and an object lesson in the value of following your heart when choosing your path.  

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