AOA volunteer joins first Vietnam optometric teamDecember 25, 2012
Editor’s Note: Karl Citek, O.D., chair of the AOA’s Commission on Ophthalmic Standards (CmOS) sent in a narrative of his recent optometric mission trip to Vietnam.
Vietnam. What an amazing place! What wonderful people! What a fantastic mission!
As I make my way home, during long airport layovers, here are some of my notes and impressions on this first “trip of a lifetime.”
On Aug. 25, 2012, more than 70 health professionals, students, and volunteers arrived in Hue, in central Vietnam, to conduct health screenings for the indigent and underserved populations at several clinics in nearby towns and villages. This is the fourth such trip for the Vietnam Health Clinic (VHC), and the first to which optometry has been invited. Other specialties included nurse triage, general medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy.
Representing optometry, I was joined by Mai Nguyen, O.D., and Ben Crowell, O.D., from Seattle; Pacific University Optometry students Khoa Nguyen, Shane McDonald, and An Pham; Dr. Mai’s sister Quynh, who did an excellent job with translation, and my wife, Patricia Logan, who more than ably assisted in measuring visual acuities.
VHC brought along nearly half a ton(!) of donated supplies, including readers and “pre-owned” glasses from the Lions Club in Washington and Signet Armorlite; customizable readers from Amigos (Pacific University Optometry’s equivalent to VHC); prescription lens blanks from Carl Zeiss Vision and Essilor; prescription frames from Marchon, Safilo, REM, and Zylowear; sun eyewear, including kids’ sizes and styles, from Mountain Shades, Safilo, and Zylowear; and diagnostic and therapeutic medications and artificial tears from Hillsboro (Oregon) Eye Clinic, Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, and Pacific University.
Amigos also was generous to lend us a Nikon Retinomax autorefractor and several other portable, hand-held instruments and visual acuity charts. And Khoa’s uncle’s optical dispensary in Hue was able to edge the lenses for custom prescriptions at minimal cost.
Optometry was able to participate only in the first week of the mission, but in four and a half clinic days, more than 1,250 patients received vision screenings. Virtually all, regardless of age, received sunglasses, and most age 40 and older received readers. We expect about another 1,000 patients to be seen in the remaining clinics this week, and they will receive readers and sunglasses as necessary, even though they will not go through a full vision screening.
VHC also visited a hospital and several orphanages and shelters in the area, bringing rice and toys as appropriate. We were able to also bring sunglasses to one orphanage, making more than 20 children and their caretakers very happy.
There were some truly heartbreaking encounters, from the young boy born with bilateral anophthalmia to the octogenarian veteran with one prosthetic eye and the other almost totally blind due to disease.
And while cataracts are endemic in the population over 60, many patients had enough vision to get to 20/50 or better with some optical correction at distance and/or near; a surgery referral is not really an option for those without the means to pay their share of the cost, and surgery, or the needed co-pay, is something VHC is not able to provide.
Of course, the overwhelming number of encounters concluded with very positive and satisfying results: we dispensed several hundred donated glasses and custom prescriptions, including many to children and young adults with moderate to severe myopia (-8 D and higher!). I wonder if any of these patients, during their school years, ever received any medical care, let alone an eye exam!
Having heard stories and tales of (mis)adventure from my colleagues and students who participated in similar missions in other parts of the world, Patricia and I understandably approached joining this trip with some apprehension and trepidation. But, we thought, if not now, when?
From the day we arrived in Vietnam, it was clear to us that we made the right decision to go.
VHC is a great organization, and the mission ran as smoothly and efficiently as could be expected, especially for a group of this size.
Yes, there were minor glitches, mostly dealing with logistics at each site that were beyond our control, and as all the different specialties settled into their routines for proper patient flow.
But, not surprisingly, we were all able to care for all the patients who came to see us in a timely manner, and each patient received the full and proper attention that he or she needed and deserved and that we could provide.
At this point, I look forward to VHC continuing and thriving well into the future, until the need for it and similar groups no longer exists. Isn’t that a wonderful goal to strive for!
For now, an immense “THANK YOU” to all the donors, sponsors, and supporters who helped make this mission a reality. We could not have done this work without you.
So, I hope you will look forward to soon hearing about the plans for next year’s trip!