Unite For Sight Profile: Ophthalmic Nurse Dennis Baah

She was 78 years old, blind in both eyes due to cataracts.  It was his first outreach with Unite For Sight, and ophthalmic nurse Dennis Baah will never forget the day he saw this elderly woman after her cataract surgery.  She suddenly had perfect vision.  And she was dancing.

“You see a patient blind,” Dennis says of his work for Unite For Sight.  “And the next visit, they can see and walk about.”

Born in 1973 to an accountant and teacher in Atibie, a little village in the Eastern Region, Dennis moved around from school to school while he was growing up, but was always top of his class.  Though math was his favorite subject, a bout with appendicitis when he was 13 turned him towards public health.  After getting his appendix removed, Dennis remembers a kind man—his nurse—who eased him into a complete and healthy recovery.  It was then that Dennis knew he wanted to be a nurse, to be someone who could help others get better.

Dennis was just as outstanding in high school, finishing tenth in a class of 200 and gaining admittance to the Presbyterian Nurse’s Training College.  It was there that he discovered a passion for the practical aspects of healthcare that deliver real results.  His two main interests were midwifery and eye health.  And though midwifery was satisfying, to be able to give patients exactly what they wanted, eye health was special; as Dennis says, only in eye health do patients “come blind and go seeing.”

“I said to myself,” Dennis remembers from his student days, “I always want to see results and be among people.”  True to his word, Dennis began going on eye health outreaches even while in college.

After his schooling, Dennis became a general nurse at Agogo Hospital in Accra, and later in both the emergency unit and private ward of the University of Ghana Hospital, where he was also completing a diploma in nursing administration.  Still keen to focus on eye health, Dennis simultaneously pursued a diploma in ophthalmology at Korle-bu Teaching Hospital.  It was a hectic but fulfilling time, and—as Dennis so appreciates—it got results.

In 2001, Dennis became a nursing officer for the Emmanuel Eye Clinic in Accra.  At Emmanuel, Dennis was, as he says, “a jack of all trades,” assisting in the operating theatre as well as leading outreaches.  Work sometimes began as early as 5 am, and “we would close when the last patient goes away.”

A unique opportunity arose in 2003 to go to England and study nursing in Liverpool.  On the one hand, it was completely different from Ghana; he met people from all over the world, and had to learn to understand a myriad of accents.  But on the other hand, it was as if he never left; Dennis ended up working for a mobile, outreach-based eye clinic that traveled around the United Kingdom serving patients who were on long waiting lists for hospital care.

With family in London as well, Dennis stayed in the UK until 2008, when on holiday back in Ghana he met Dr. James Clarke, whom he had known from his days at the Emmanuel Eye Clinic.  Accompanying Dr. Clarke on some of his work for Crystal Eye Clinic, Dennis saw “volunteers coming from all over” and thought, “If this group of people are coming to help, then why am I wasting my time in England?”  When Dennis told Dr. Clarke he would like to work for Crystal Eye Clinic and Unite For Sight, Dr. Clarke informed him the pay would not be nearly as good as what Dennis had been earning in the UK.

But Dennis was already sold.  “I wanted to work for my people,” he says.  “Not for the money.”

On May 1, 2008, Dennis started working for Crystal Eye Clinic's Unite For Sight outreach program.  “It’s been wonderful,” he says, but there have been challenges.  The hours and travel can be hard on his family—Dennis has a six-year-old and a three-year-old—and the sheer number of patients he meets on outreaches can be overwhelming. Volunteers may come and go, but Dennis is always around, accommodating them and patients at the same time.  Yet he welcomes the constant movement, saying that he “can’t sit down for a long time or be in an office.”  And after all, one of the best parts of his job, he says, “is having new friends every few weeks.”