THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Providing vision to athletes who have special needs reminds me of the beauty in optometry.
PAUL BERMAN, O.D., F.A.A .O. HACKENSACK, N.J.
Ihave the great pleasure of being the founder and senior global clinical advisor of the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes organization (SOLCIOE). This organization strives to improve the quality of life of people who have intellectual disabilities by bettering their vision, eye health and visual skills through quality eye care. Here, I will discuss my most memorable encounters with these special people and the volunteers and organizations that have enabled SOLCIOE to help them.
The jocular jocks
Due to their confidence, and jocularity, three Special Olympic athletes stand out in my mind: Brian, Mike and Victoria. Brian, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who has myopia attended the SOLCIOE screening in Ames, Iowa at the First Special Olympics National Games. Shortly after receiving a pair of glasses, Brian looked up at a tree, saw a bird and said, “so that’s what makes that noise.” At the sixth Special Olympics World Winter Games in Toronto/Collingwood, Ontario, Canada, I met Mike, a 22-year-old Special Olympics athlete from Washington, who regularly received the silver medal in indoor track and field. He had uncorrected myopia of -10.00D, which prompted one of my colleagues to ask Mike how he could compete. Mike’s answer: “That’s easy; I just follow the blur in front of me.” Three days later, Mike returned to give the Opening Eyes team a big hug. He was wearing a gold medal. While attending Special Olympics African Hope 2001 in South Africa, a series of events to benefit the intellectually disabled, I met 16-year-old Victoria, from Johannesburg, South Africa, who played several sports. She presented to our Opening Eyes screening with moderate myopia, which was previously uncorrected. We were able to edge the appropriate pair of lenses for her new frames on site at a soccer stadium. When Victoria put on her new glasses, she smiled broadly and immediately approached Tim Shriver, the CEO of Special Olympics, and actor/California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “See,” “Can’t See,” she said, as she repeatedly removed and replaced her glasses.
I wouldn’t have had these great experiences if not for the funding of Lions Clubs International and donations from Essilor, Safilo and Liberty Sport. The American Optometric Association, the World Council of Optometry, the Special Olympics Organization and my colleagues have also provided great support. As a result, SOLCIOE has screened almost 100,000 Special Olympics athletes. And, more than 37,000 intellectually disabled people can now see better. We, as optometrists, tend to take for granted the effect glasses and contact lenses have on people’s lives. But, when we volunteer to provide sight to those who are intellectually challenged and universally neglected, we are immediately reminded of the beauty in optometry and in the human spirit.
To volunteer for Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes, contact Paul Berman, O.D., F.A.A.O., at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.
Optometric Management, Issue: March 2007