Russian Yup'ik elder regains vision

Posted: Sunday, April 09, 2000

BARROW (AP) -- A Russian Yup'ik elder can spot whales as well as he did 30 years ago, thanks to the generosity of Alaskans. He was resting well in Fairbanks last week following three operations on his eyes.

Elder Peter Typykhkak was suffering from cataracts and glaucoma so severe that his vision was about 10 percent of normal. He is a highly respected whaler and president of the Chukotka equivalent of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

''He had cataracts removed from both eyes, and another operation on his eyelid, which was turning inward and rubbing on his cornea causing some scarring,'' Dr. Tom Albert of the North Slope Department of Wildlife Management told the Arctic Sounder.

Typykhkak came to Barrow in March as part of a delegation from Chukotka signing agreements with marine mammal research groups and seeking humanitarian assistance.

With the help of Bob Gerhard and Peter Richter, of the National Park Service in Anchorage, he was able to locate ophthalmologist Dr. Ronald Zamber, of Fairbanks. Zamber agreed to perform the surgery without charge.

Dr. John Tichotsky and his wife, Mary Core, put up $7,500 for Typykhkak's hospital stay. Velma and Keith Koontz, of Fairbanks, allowed Typykhkak and his translator to stay at their home for the nearly three weeks it has taken for the surgery and recovery.

''They were real heroes through all of this,'' Albert said. ''They put him up and fed him and drove him to all of his appointments, all free of charge.''

Typykhkak's vision is back to what it was 30 years ago, Albert said. The elder was scheduled to return to his village Monday to begin hunting whales and marine mammals again.

Donations are still being sought to help defray the hospital cost put up by Tichotsky and Core. Those interested in making a donation can contact the North Slope Department of Wildlife Management at (907) 852-0350.

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