Standing strong so others can rest from trauma, disasters

December 14, 2023
Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief eases the burden of those impacted by catastrophes.

Photo courtesy of Rae Nagahiro, O.D.

When the 2022 hurricane season brought 15 designated storms to the doors of optometrists across the country, Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR) expedited aid. For Hurricane Ian alone, OFDR awarded $62,000 in grants to 24 doctors of optometry to cover widespread losses in Florida. 

In 2023, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century impacted Maui doctors of optometry and the community they care for. The devastation began as small brush fires, whipped up by strong winds from passing Hurricane Dora.  

Since 2005, when flooding from Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, OFDR has awarded more than $1.2 million to doctors of optometry and students impacted by natural disasters to restore patient care. A program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, OFDR provides financial support to doctors of optometry affected by disasters with an aim toward helping cover necessary expenses and expediting doctors’ ability to reopen their practices. Those disasters include—but are not limited to—hurricanes, tornadoes, civil unrest, earthquakes, floods and fires. Grants range between $250 to $4,000. Generous donations are made by individual doctors of optometry as well as industry supporters.  

“AOAExcel®, in its commitment to supporting the AOA’s mission of advocacy, is happy to donate to Optometry Cares®. Just as AOAExcel strives to make life easier for AOA members and ultimately improve the lives of patients, Optometry Cares—optometry’s premier philanthropic organization—seeks to empower the optometric profession through awareness, access and care. AOAExcel is proud to support the work Optometry Cares does through the InfantSEE® program, disaster relief fund, and scholarships, and it looks forward to supporting and advancing organized optometry in the future,” says Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., chair of the board for AOAExcel and past AOA president. 

Thanks to the generous support of EssilorLuxottica and CooperVision, the fund has been poised to restore patient care during disasters this year. The funds ease the financial strain on doctors and enable them to return more quickly to work. 

2023 support and impact  

This year, OFDR delivered help across the country. Read a testimonial from a Hawaii doctor who was helped in 2023.   

Rae Nagahiro, O.D., Hawaii  

The Maui wildfire left thousands of people displaced, unaccounted for, searching for loved ones and ultimately, in need of help. The AOA released a story following doctors of optometry on the island mobilizing to provide support to first responders and shelters asking for care.  

The story also contained a lifeline for those in Lahaina to acquire aid from OFDR. Dr. Nagahiro applied and received a grant.   

Dr. Nagahiro reports she is grateful to be alive after being trapped in an electronic key-controlled bathroom during the wildfire. Many of her patients are also happy to be alive as they shared horrific stories of escaping the fire with her. Some families with 90-year-old members had to jump into the ocean for 8 hours while others hid in a cement parking structure, watching the town burn, their cars exploding, and enduring the extreme heat and smoke that destroyed everything in its wake, even a fire truck.    

“Thank you to Optometry Cares and OFDR for the grant. It allowed me to reorder the new glasses and contact lenses that burned in my office while awaiting pick up by patients. Luckily, I was able to contact most of them and get their new addresses (mostly post-office boxes because all their homes burned) and mail them. A few were so anxious, they picked up their glasses at my home.   

It is very sad. About 100 people lost their lives and about 60 of them were my patients, some I knew for 40 years. I even saw a few just a month before the fire. Even though I escaped the fire, I had some PTSD because I was so worried about them and wished they had evacuated sooner.    

Many people do not realize how bad and how hot the fire was. It was at least 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, driven and fed by the extreme wind from Hurricane Dora. The central area of Lahaina Town, where my office was, is called ‘The Burn Zone.’ The EPA just opened my zone, and I went back to my office on Dec. 11 and 12. To revisit my office, I had to wear a hazmat suit. The ash and the microparticles in the air were deemed very toxic with a high concentration of arsenic and heavy metals. It was very agonizing to see my office of almost 40 years destroyed. My Humphrey Matrix was there in a black melted shape. Ironically, my inexpensive microwave was very visible. Everything else, OCT, phoropter, slit lamp, etc., were ashes.  

All my fellow optometrists have been very supportive. I’ve been able to send my patients to other practices and told them to say they were referred by me.”  

How doctors can support Optometry Cares 

Disasters are unpredictable and life-altering, but Optometry Cares is determined to ensure OFDR is always ready to help doctors of optometry, as well as optometry students, overcome challenging times. Your support helps Optometry Cares support programs such as OFDR. Here's how you can support OFDR or find grant information: 

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