ODs share the value of volunteering

Working as a volunteer in the mountains of Peru, Steve La Liberte, O.D., learned that appreciation transcends language.

"You just need a good heart."

The Quechua Indians there do not have a word for "thank you." "It's not something you say—it's something you do," Dr. La Liberte explained. So when one patient tried to give a belt as thanks for the eye care he received, the volunteer team said his smile would be enough.

From then on, two Quechua children arrived every morning to smile at them.

Such are the rewards of Dr. La Liberte's Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) missions. The Wisconsin optometrist has performed these missions for many years, first in Nicaragua and later in Peru. Dr. La Liberte's daughter, Stephanie, an Illinois College of Optometry student, has even accompanied him on his last two trips.

Care that keeps you coming back

"Our first Lima mission was in 2001, on which we had a surgical team doing crossed eyes, cleft lips and cleft palates, a dental team, and our VOSH eye mission all together," said Dr. La Liberte, who practices at the Mayo Clinic in Wisconsin.

Although they would later split into separate missions, the VOSH work in Peru continues, as does the surgical and dental care. There are even plans for for a permanent hospital and clinic. "The seeds we planted there have grown into health care for thousands of very poor in the Lima area," Dr. La Liberte said.

His latest mission to an orphanage in Lurin, Peru, in January included four optometrists, an eye surgeon and 15 optical volunteers. The team saw 2,660 very needy patients for eye exams and fitted 2,500 pairs of recycled Lions eyeglasses. They also provided the orphanage with 11,500 pairs of recycled Lions eyeglasses for future use.

"It's so humbling," he said of the experience. "They make you want to come back."

True to that statement, Dr. La Liberte returns every other year to serve those in need. He urges other optometrists to volunteer for VOSH mission trips.

"I'm not a real leader," he said. "It's nerve-wracking for me, but you just do it. Go and make a difference. It's a chance for a wallflower optometrist to make a difference and shine. You just need a good heart."

In other state news

Illinois: The Vision of Hope Health Alliance (VOHHA) is the most widely recognized, comprehensive eye care program for Chicago's uninsured adult populations. Established in 2003 as a pilot program of Vision of Hope within the Illinois Eye Institute (the IEI), VOHHA has grown to represent a unique model of health care delivery under the provision of eye care and related health services and is a recipient of Healthy Eyes Healthy People® grants in collaboration with the Illinois Optometric Association.

Janis Winters, O.D., VOHHA program director and Healthy Eyes Healthy People® (HEHP) grant recipient sums it up, "I am very proud of the eye care services that the Illinois Eye Institute has been able to provide to so many low-income uninsured adult individuals. Without the Vision of Health Hope Alliance many of these patients would not have been able to obtain eye care or eye glasses."

New Mexico: The KidSight program increased the vision screening rate for amblyogenic risk factors in young students to 95 percent, but they aren't stopping there. To sustain this and increase screenings, the Taos Lions Club, with the help of New Mexico Optometric Association (NMOA) OD members, is extending the program to children ages 2 to 5 and home-schooled students at scheduled in-school screenings.

Now in its sixth year, the KidSight program screens approximately 1,700 children every year. Children thought to have a vision problem are referred to NMOA OD members for verificiation and correction. There is no charge for screenings. The project's goal is to screen children (3 to 6 years old) for amblyogenic risk factors and to fund treatment for referred children whose families cannot afford it.

October 17, 2013

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