Nanaimo eye doctor earns Governor General’s award

NANAIMO – Dr. Martin Spencer was honoured in Ottawa Tuesday for teaching and performing surgery in low-income countries.

Dr. Martin Spencer

Dr. Martin Spencer

A Nanaimo ophthalmologist saw honours bestowed for his volunteer work with eyes on Tuesday in Ottawa.

Dr. Martin Spencer received the Governor General’s Sovereign Medal for Volunteers and has volunteered with charitable organization Seva Canada, teaching and performing cataract surgery overseas in countries like Madagascar and Tibet.

Spencer said his work with Seva focuses on care for women and children in low income countries, because they have two-thirds of the blindness, but only receive one-third of the eye care. The environment is different from the Western Hemisphere, he said.

“Sometimes I’m operating in schoolrooms with mud floors and insects in the air,” said Spencer in an email. “I have developed techniques to simplify the surgery so that it can be done with very few instruments, but obtain results approaching the quality and safety we are accustomed to in the West.”

He said the greatest satisfaction from his volunteer work is the smiles from the people with restored vision. Teaching others to perform surgery magnifies the number of smiles, he said.

“Nothing can beat the sight of a previously blind mother seeing her child for the first time, or a child now able to play and go to school,” Spencer said.

Spencer was conferred with the award by Governor General David Johnston at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, an experience he said was moving. It was humbling to be surrounded by his peer volunteers from across the country.

“I have been volunteering with Seva for 30 years,” said Spencer. “I don’t think anyone who does volunteer work does it for recognition, but it’s a tremendous honour to be recognized, and I hope it also draws attention to the work Seva is doing.”

As for what’s next for Spencer, he said he is preparing for his next trip, a thrill that doesn’t wear off.