2nd from left: Copy photo of Dr. Gerard D'Aversa, an...

2nd from left: Copy photo of Dr. Gerard D'Aversa, an opthamologist, in surgery at the Northwestern Eye Clinic in Accra, Ghana earlier this year. (April 2, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

It began as a simple childhood idea: a trip with her eye surgeon father to help the blind and visually impaired.

But Garden City resident Jaclyn D'Aversa's dream blossomed into a mission.

After 10 days in Ghana's capital of Accra, Jaclyn and her father, Gerard D'Aversa, a Valley Stream eye surgeon, have a legacy that lives on: the hundreds of patients whom they helped, as well as a machine that enables less invasive cataract surgery -- only the second such machine in Western Africa.

As a child, Jaclyn hoped to travel with her father to a place in need of his skills. She made her pitch in early 2010: They'd work with Unite For Sight, which partners with eye physicians and their college-age children. They'd go to the North Western Eye Clinic in Accra. But first, they had to pay for their airfares, accommodation, meals and the clinic.

"I always knew he did something special, that he was gifted, and growing up, I was interested in community service,' " said D'Aversa, a junior studying sociology at Barnard College.

Jaclyn's father agreed. In mid-2010, he called the Accra clinic's doctor, Michael Gyasi, and suggested basic supplies: antibiotics, anti-allergies, anti-inflammatories.

"Yes," Gyasi repeated.

"The list went on and on and I realized he needed everything," said D'Aversa, of Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island.

The D'Aversas organized a bake sale and cajoled donations from friends and family. Colleagues, patients and friends of friends helped out. Bob Nelson, director of Island Eye Surgicenter in Carle Place, donated the machine for cataract surgery. Joseph Cavataio of Hewlett, 11, collected hundreds of prescription eyeglasses.

"From the smallest gestures to the most incredible, we were just blown away," said Jaclyn's mother, Madeline D'Aversa.

The D'Aversas left for Accra on New Year's Eve. Gyasi and D'Aversa performed about 100 procedures, working 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. most days. Jacyln D'Aversa did pre-op procedures.

Villages raised money to send patients, some of whom walked for days. Many slept on the clinic floor or outside overnight.

"All we got was gratitude. I thought of my offices here and how a patient might be upset if they had to wait for 40 minutes," D'Aversa said.

A month after they left, an article ran in a local publication boasting that Ghanaians no longer needed to travel for modern eye surgery.

Gyasi recently took a call from a high-ranking political figure. He said he had just canceled eye surgery in Britain. Could he make an appointment?

Gyasi told him yes.

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