On a mission: Wisconsin OD delivers care to thousands on his travels to South AmericaSeptember 18, 2013
Peru is almost a home away from home for Wisconsin optometrist Steve La Liberte, O.D. For many years, he has led Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) missions to first Nicaragua and now Peru.
Dr. La Liberte’s daughter, Stephanie, an Illinois College of Optometry student, has even accompanied him on his last two trips.
“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. “That group proved to be too large for the orphanage we stay at to accommodate us, so we later split into separate missions. But our VOSH work there continues, as does the surgical and dental care. We have built a full-time dental clinic there and Father Sebastian actually has plans drawn up and a scale model built for a permanent hospital and clinic to be built on the orphanage grounds. So the seeds we planted there have grown into health care for thousands of very poor in the Lima area.”
Dr. La Liberte returns every other year to serve those in need.
“It’s so humbling,” he said. “They make you want to come back.”
Many of those receiving care want to offer some type of payment in return. In the mountains, the Quechua Indians do not have a word for “thank you.”
“It’s not something you say—it’s something you do,” Dr. La Liberte explained.
When one patient tried to give a belt as thanks, the team said his smile would be enough. From then on, two Quechua children arrived every morning to smile at them.
Dr. La Liberte’s latest mission was in January to an orphanage in Lurin, Peru. The team included four optom-etrists, an eye surgeon and 15 optical volunteers.
“They help people who had no other hope see again,” Dr. La Liberte said.
The team saw 2,660 very needy poor for eye exams and fit 2,500 pairs of recycled Lions eyeglasses. They provided the orphanage with 11,500 pairs of recycled Lions eyeglasses for future use.
“The Lions eyeglass program makes this all possible with their Lions Foundation providing us with the many recycled eyeglasses we need to serve these poor people,” he said. “In addition to their eyeglass program, many area Lions clubs contributed financially to help support our other expenses, as did the Mayo Skemp Foundation and the Diocese of La Crosse.”
Dr. La Liberte’s mission work has led to medical and surgical teams coming to the orphanage in Peru as well as dental teams.
“Through my mission work I have learned that the happiest people are not those who have the most. It is the people who need the least,” he said.
Dr. La Liberte urges other optometrists to experience 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.”
Visit www.vosh.org for more information and to volunteer.