Article Date: 1/1/2008

Giving The Gift of Sight
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Giving The Gift of Sight

My mission trip not only reinforced my belief in the power of good vision, but the power of teamwork as well.

KELLY A. BOUCHER, O.D. CHICAGO, IL.

Paraguay, August 2007: One taxi ride, three flights, one bus ride and about 5,000 miles later, I finally made it to my ultimate destination: Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. I was among seven other optometrists, two optometry students and about thirty volunteers who were fortunate enough to travel to South America with the help of a Luxottica-sponsored organization called Give The Gift of Sight. At first, I was a little nervous about being in a foreign country with a group of complete strangers, but quickly that anxiety washed away. I was soon filled with excitement and anticipation about what was to come.

San Lorenzo

With the help of the local Lions Club, the clinic was set up in a field house in San Lorenzo, Paraguay, a small town just outside the capital. Every morning, thousands of natives stood in line at three or four in the morning, waiting hours and hours for our help.

Dr. Boucher, (first row, fourth person from the left) huddles with many of her fellow volunteers in Paraguay.

Over the next two weeks, I was able to get to know my mission team and form lasting friendships. Together we worked, laughed and supported each other over long hours and through the bitter cold (yes, Paraguay is cold in August!). Two weeks is a long time to be away from home, but we were able to see over 23,000 people who greatly needed our help. These patients ranged from three-month old infants to the elderly, well into their 90s. Their ocular issues ranged from untreated glaucoma and cataracts to refractive errors. Armed with readers, sunglasses, and thousands upon thousands of recycled eyeglasses, we were able to give countless individuals the gift of sight.

Paraguay is an amazing country that's full of life. Every patient I saw was extremely grateful for our time spent there. As patients put on their recycled glasses for the first time, they smiled because they looked at the world through different eyes.

Memorable patient

Perhaps my most memorable story involves a little eight-year-old girl who came through my line. Like most of the children there, she had never had glasses before, and being a -6.00D myope, she had no idea what clear and comfortable vision was. Thankfully, we were able to find her the perfect pair of glasses. As she put on her new glasses, she began to cry tears of joy, and that's when I knew I made a difference.

I had arrived in South America uncertain and alone, but I left feeling fulfilled … and longing for my pillow-top mattress. On the 24-hour commute home, the other volunteers and I laughed and bonded over our experience. We talked about the funny things that happened, like the night the Lions Club had a party for us in an open-air building, and we huddled together for warmth. We also reminisced about all the people we touched, like the eight-year-old girl.

There was something special about the trip to Paraguay that I cannot put my finger on. Perhaps it was the camaraderie formed between my teammates, or maybe the instantaneous gratification of seeing the patients with the new glasses. Looking back, I realize that I'm just happy to have helped. I look forward to volunteering for more international missions because I see the need that is there. OM

For more information on mission trips, visit www.givethegiftofsight.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: January 2008