Vail Symposium to host Dr. Geoff Tabin, April 6 |

Vail Symposium to host Dr. Geoff Tabin, April 6

Daily staff report
Michael Yamashita | Special to the Daily Dr. Geoff Tabin was named by the Dalai Lama as one of the world’s "Unsung Heroes" for his dedication to eradicating unnecessary blindness in the world.
Michael Yamashita | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

What: “Stories of Exploration, Innovation and Making a Difference,” with Dr. Geoff Tabin and Timmy O’Neill

When: Thursday, April 6; doors open at 5:30 p.m., program at 6 p.m.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $15 general admission prior to 2 p.m. on the event day, $25 at the door.

More information: Purchase tickets online at or at the Vilar Center box office.

The Vail Symposium this week announced a special addition to its winter program, featuring renowned ophthalmologist, mountaineer and medical pioneer Dr. Geoff Tabin and his good friend and famed climber Timmy O’Neill at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Thursday, April 6.

Together, Tabin and O’Neill will command an evening of inspiring stories from the bedside of Tabin’s patients cured of blindness in as little as 24 hours, along with exciting — and hilarious — stories from mountaineering expeditions all over the world.

Tabin is best known for his work with the Himalayan Cataract Project, where, alongside his Nepalese partner, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, the mission is to eradicate curable and preventable blindness in the underdeveloped world within their lifetimes.

Tabin and Ruit are the subjects of New York Times best-selling author David Oliver Relin’s book “Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives,” and their work has been featured on David Muir on ABC News’ “World News,” in columns by Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times and in articles in The Economist, Time and many other publications.

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O’Neill is a climber and a comedian. He set the speed climbing record of The Nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite and has completed various first ascents of routes in Patagonia. O’Neill’s was labeled by Outside Magazine to be a part of what they called “The Last Bastion of Outdoor Outlaws” for his consistent string of jokes and epic exploits that include climbing the Chicago Tribune Tower.

Inspired by Tabin and Ruit’s mission, O’Neill has trained to become an ophthalmic assistant and travels often with Tabin to remote eye camps where they operate.

This special program will be presented as part of the Vail Symposium’s Unlimited Adventure series and is presented with support from the Vail Public Library.

“It is a rare opportunity to put these two together for a Symposium-style event when they’re typically in some of the far reaches of the planet, either serving the population there in a medical capacity or climbing for their own fun,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “You’ll learn from Geoff a powerful message: Follow your passion, finish your education and, then, give back to the world.”

Himalayan Project

On one of his many mountaineering expeditions, Tabin came across a Dutch team performing cataract surgery on a woman who had been needlessly blind for three years. Tabin had already laid an impressive academic foundation for himself when he began his path as an eye surgeon and humanitarian.

Following his ophthalmology residency and cornea fellowship, Tabin met Ruit, who had perfected a sutureless method of cataract surgery that reduces the risk of infection, thereby enabling operations in remote areas far from the nearest hospital.

Since the Himalayan Cataract Project began operating in 1994, the impact has been massive. Today, there are more than 300,000 cataract operations performed in Nepal each year. It is estimated that, now, less than two in 10,000 people suffer from curable blindness.

Together, Tabin and Ruit and their respective institutions have contributed to reducing the backlog of cataract blindness in Nepal by about 80 percent, while expanding clinical programs and service delivery throughout South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The sutureless operation can be completed in less than five minutes while restoring sight in 24 hours with a success rate of 99 percent. All of this for the cost of about $25, or less than what it costs to drape a patient for cataract surgery in the United States.

About Tabin

Described by National Geographic as a “human dynamo” for his seemingly endless energy, Tabin’s life has been nothing short of extraordinary. The fourth person in the world to reach the tallest peak on each of the seven continents, Tabin’s love for mountain climbing is what led him to his professional career in eye care.

Tabin’s university education began at Yale. After graduating, he went on to earn an Master of Arts in Philosophy at Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. He then took his interest in moral philosophy and health care delivery to Harvard Medical School, where he earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1985.

After completing an ophthalmology residency at Brown University and a fellowship in corneal surgery in Melbourne, Australia, Tabin went to Nepal to work with Ruit and the Himalayan Cataract Project.

Tabin is currently professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the Division of International Ophthalmology at the John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. He spends a considerable part of the year working abroad throughout the Himalayas and sub-Saharan Africa.

While his passion to conquer the world’s tallest mountains is great, his passion to overcome the mountain of blindness is even greater. He believes the goal he set with Ruit — to eliminate preventable and treatable blindness from the developing world in their lifetimes — is a goal more audacious than setting out to make the first ascent of the East Face of Mount Everest.

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