Interview: Dr. Jesse McCann, a Retina Global volunteer to Bolivia

An interview with Dr. Jesse McCann, a retina specialist from Sarasota, Florida, who was a Retina Global volunteer for the BOLDR project in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in June 2018. – Ed


What made you decide to go to Cochabamba for being part of the BOLDR project?

I’ve always had an interest in global health and Retina Global appeared to be the type of organization that I wanted to join. The project in Cochabamba seemed well-organized with a sight-saving mission. I also happened to have an interest in the archaeology of the Andes since my undergraduate days so that was another bonus!


How did you come to know of Retina Global?

I found it on Facebook!


What do you think of the work of Retina Global?

It’s great. Low overhead, maximal involvement, and many international partners. The organization is working to develop sustainable retina care in the cities where it works.


How was your experience while in Cochabamba?

It was an amazing experience. I travel quite a bit recreationally but traveling with a mission was even more enjoyable.

Dr. Jesse McCann visits a prison in Cochabamba with a team to evaluate those incarcerated who have diabetes.

Dr. Jesse McCann, along with a team, visits a prison in Cochabamba to evaluate those incarcerated who have diabetes.

Have you ever visited Bolivia or Cochabamba before? What was the highlight of your visit to Cochabamba?

No, I’ve been to South America before but never to Bolivia. Traveling around the region was tremendous fun. We went to a potato market where I had never seen any of the potatoes! Everyone was so gracious and kind. I think I gained 10 lbs eating all the delicious food.


Working outside your routine place of work presents its challenges. Did you face any challenges while in Cochabamba? If so, what do you think needs to be done to reduce those challenges?

The laser was a previous generation than the fancy Zeiss that I have up in Florida. The other issue was that many patients had bad cataracts that limited disease evaluation.  Another issue was dealing with the Bolivian Embassy in Miami who waited until the last minute to send me my visa! I am hoping to get a multiple entry visa for the future.

Dr. Jesse McCann performing laser on a patient with diabetic retinopathy.

Pic: Dr. Jesse McCann performing laser on a patient with diabetic retinopathy.

What do you think can be done more to make the project successful?

I think that we should create a budget to provide free cataract surgery to patients that later have vitrectomy to maximize outcomes and also provide for preoperative Avastin on patients with vitreous hemorrhage and tractional detachments.

Dr. Jesse McCann injecting Avastin in a patient in the operating room.

Dr. Jesse McCann injecting Avastin in a patient in the operating room.

Did the trip and the work meet your expectations?

It exceeded my expectations.


Do you plan to go to Cochabamba again? If so, when?

I would like to go back as soon as they get the vitrectomy machine! I am excited.


What will you say to potential volunteers who wish to follow you to Cochabamba to work on this project?

Go! Buy a cheap Indian indirect off of eBay and donate it to the residents! Be prepared to EAT!

Dr. Jesse McCann donates an indirect ophthalmoscope to the BOLDR project.

Pic: Dr. Jesse McCann donates an indirect ophthalmoscope to the BOLDR project.

Why do you think more people should volunteer on these missions?

Residency and fellowships are a bit of a bubble. There’s a tendency to take on cases with very low yield and to treat maximally with diminishing returns. Working with limited resources teaches you to prioritize. Working in private practice, it was a great opportunity to teach as well and has made me consider getting an adjunct academic appointment in the future.


More from the Editor:

During his trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia, apart from evaluating patients in the clinic and providing treatment in the operating room and laser to patients, Dr. McCann also participated in other activities related to the BOLDR project. As part of the Certification course for ophthalmologists, he gave a talk related to diabetic retinopathy. He also participated in another Certification course for general practitioners/ family doctors, where he spoke on diabetic retinopathy. These certification courses are focused on creating more awareness among Ophthalmologists as well as in General Practitioners, who are the first line of ‘defense’ against diabetic retinopathy. These courses are supported by the World Diabetes Foundation, with additional support from Thrombogenics.

If you wish to volunteer on this or any other mission, please write to us at info(at)

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