She Helps Give Sight to People Worldwide

Donna Wallenthin is beginning to feel more worldly after traveling to Jordan, Korea and twice to China as part of an international surgical team working to restore the sight of hundreds of people.

At the same time, the registered nurse learned about a way of life that sometimes shocked her.

“I had never been in a Communist country and was amazed that the people couldn’t move around the country freely,” said the El Toro woman, who hadn’t been outside the United States before her China trip, organized by the Surgical Eye Expedition (SEE).

“It was fascinating to me to think about going to China,” she said. “I loved the idea of seeing another culture and being in another environment.”


But while she was aware that life in other countries was different, “emotionally it was a totally different thing for me.”

She had been asked by a physician who was part of the surgical team to join the group in helping to teach physicians and nurses in mainland China current techniques for cataract extraction.

The eye organization said surgical teams this year already have performed about 3,700 eye operations throughout the developing world.

After the team performed free sight-restoring surgeries for indigent people, Wallenthin gave seminars to ophthalmic nurses at an educational symposium.


“It was an adventure to do something I know how to do here and do it in another setting,” said Wallenthin, 49, who once worked in the same hospital in which she was born.

“We were well-received,” said the Elizabeth (N.J.) General Hospital nursing school graduate who has never stopped working, except while she was pregnant with her son. “The medical personnel are eager for education and help in furthering eye care for their people.”

Since her early days, Wallenthin was around illness in her family, especially her mother and father, which gave her the feeling that her lot in life was to take care of people.

Her three brothers went to live with other family members, but Wallenthin stayed with her ailing parents.


“I was a little girl when I got a little nurse kit with sugar pills and a stethoscope and from that time I knew what I was going to be,” Wallenthin said.

She also had the benefit of a strong-willed mother who believed that “everyone should have an education. She thought education was the only way to further yourself,” said Wallenthin, who remembers, “Mother wanted to be a nurse and instead fostered it in me.”

Wallenthin had worked in New Jersey before moving to Santa Barbara, where she was a surgical nurse at St. Francis Hospital for nearly 20 years before moving to El Toro.

She is now at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills.


“During those early days I never thought I would work as a surgery nurse,” she remembers. “I thought the whole reason for being a nurse was to take care of sick people.”