Article Date: 12/1/2006

reflections - THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
From Novelty to Necessity

A mission trip forever changed the way I view life and the profession of optometry.

BY STEPHEN T. PIERSON, O.D.

The main area of optometry in which I have found the most fulfillment — working in missions — came as a surprise because it found me. In fact, while in optometry school and upon graduation, I never considered doing this type of work. But, a single event in the middle of Ecuador changed all that. . .  

The call

I hadn't had my optometric license for three months when I got a call from my church's pastor. He informed me the church planned a Mission America Placement Service (U.S. MAPS) trip to Riobamba, Ecuador, which consisted of a medical team and a construction team, and he asked me to go. MAPS is an organization that coordinates volunteers to assist ministry institutions with construction and evangelism projects.

The medical team, he said, planned on distributing hundreds of glasses from the Lions Club. However, the person who was to distribute the spectacles had no optical experience. This is where I would come in.

After picturing a number of sight-challenged Riobambans disappointed to be stumbling around in the spectacles in which they had placed so much hope, I decided I'd better join the mission to ensure the spectacles each individual received met his or her visual needs.

With some help from a few colleagues, we gathered 1,000 pairs of spectacles prior to the mission's departure. My favorite spectacles: a pair of +15.00D aphakic ones, which made the wearer's eyes appear to quadruple in size.

I suspected my fellow team members and I would have a great deal of fun with the magnifying effect of these glasses. I was right, as these spectacles were passed around a lot, deeming them quite the novelty item. In fact, many of the team members had their pictures taken wearing the glasses.

HealthCare Ministries sends several eye doctors to far off lands to help.

Plight for sight

Toward the end of the trip, it looked as if we were the only ones who would get any pleasure from these spectacles. That is, until Rosa, a nine-year-old Riobamban girl, presented to the clinic wearing a pair of high-plus glasses.

Examination of Rosa revealed a history of congenital cataracts. These were removed years ago, leaving her aphakic. The reason for her visit: Her spectacles looked as if someone had taken a sand blaster to them. In fact, Rosa could not even achieve 20/400 with her glasses, and it was impossible for me to make out the power of the lenses.

Now, I knew the +15.00D aphakic glasses we had in our possession could help Rosa. Once I placed them on her, her faced beamed, and she started reading letters off the Snellen chart. In fact, she read the letters all the way down to the 20/40 row.

I stood in awe as I realized that what had been considered a novelty just a few days ago, had become a necessity to improve this little girl's quality of life.

Since this eye-opening (no pun-intended) experience, I have attended four mission trips to Mexico — each with its own rewarding experiences. I plan to go on many more in the future, and I encourage you to go on such a trip so you can see for yourself how it changes your outlook on life and our profession. OM

For more information on Healthcare Ministries, visit www.healthcareministries.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: December 2006