Area eyecare professionals, volunteers treat 758 Nicaraguan patients

Aaron Krause • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM

A woman who entered an eye care clinic in Nicaragua recently came in wielding a folding cane, usually used by blind people.

The woman left the clinic with 20/20 vision, thanks to members of the Norwalk Lions Club and others who provided a week-long clinic in the Central American country of Nicaragua.

Norwalk Lions Club members, optometrists, optometry students from Canada and volunteers took 5,000 donated glasses to the week-long clinic, organized by Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH). In all, 23 people helped run the clinic by helping out in some way.

The youngest patient was 7 months old, while the oldest was 110.

The optometrists included Norwalk's Dr. James Maul and Willard's Dr. Larry Hookway, VOSH International's president.

"They were very, very grateful," Hookway said. "They stood in line for hours."

One of them was a 9- or 10-year-old girl who came on the clinic's first day. She said she had not been to school for almost a year.

"After being examined by one of the optometrists, we were able to locate a pair of children's eyeglasses which matched her prescription perfectly and looked very good on her," according to a written account of the mission. "When the glasses were placed on the child's face she gave a huge smile and began reading one of the Spanish posters on the wall. This young girl stayed around the mission most of the day, watching as we processed patient after patient, wearing her new glasses."

The group saw more than 200 patients on the first day, placing eyeglasses on all but a handful. These individuals were given sunglasses as protection from the hard rays of the sun so near the equator.

The clinic's first day took place in Ocotal, 13 miles south of the Honduras border on the Pan-American Highway.

The second day brought clinic volunteers up into the mountains to a small community called San Fernando. The clinic took place in a small hospital.

"The day was hot, and the optometrists were placed in little rooms," according to the written account. "They had to block the light shining into the rooms which also stopped the breeze from coming in."

In this stifling environment, the volunteers saw 180 patients.

In all, volunteers handed out some type of eyeware to 758 patients including the woman who came with a folding cane. She was fitted with two pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for distance, bringing her eyesight to 20/20.

Hookway said you can change people's lives by improving their vision.

"There's all kinds of practical things you take for granted if you're vision is good," the Willard optometrist said.

Maul, the Norwalk optometrist who attended, said there is no eye care outside Managua, Nicaragua's capital city. Eye care in that city is expensive, he added.

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas

"If you need glasses and you live in this area, you just don't see," Maul said.

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