By Greg Rodriguez, ABOC
Inside the New Testament Church of God in the mountain town of Burnt Savannah in Jamaica, a hundred or more adults, mostly seniors, and twenty school children waited patiently. The Pastor and the members of the church had prepared a list of who was to be seen by the team from the Eye Health Institute who were coming to examine and treat those with impaired vision.
When the two white SUVs arrived after a grueling journey up the narrow mountain road, the teams work began in earnest. Each patient was checked in and registered, and asked about their eye history and contact information. They then proceeded to have their vision measured to determine if there might be a need for corrective glasses either for distance or for reading. Eye pressure measurements were also obtained to assess for glaucoma. The collaboration between the Burnt Savanna residents and the Eye Health Institute team was impressive. The church had been transformed into a clinic; the eye specialists manned their stations quickly and efficiently; the patients were both patient and grateful for the needed work. As a participant observer, I was kept busy with non-specialist tasks but impressed with the professionalism of the team and the humanity of the patients.
The 18 year old Eye Health Institute clinics in Jamaica were the product of the vision and work of Dr. Richard Cross, a Boulder, Colorado, optometrist whose mother is a Jamaican native. Twice a year Cross recruits optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians, nurses, optometry interns, and willing volunteers to travel to Jamaica at their own expense to provide eye care, including prescription glasses, treatment and surgery to hundreds of Jamaicans, mostly seniors, at no charge. When cataract or laser surgery is required, the clinic in collaboration with the facilities of the hospital in the city of Lucea, has its surgeons perform the operations, again for no charge.
Burnt Savannah was only one of the three clinics where the Eye Health team generally visits. Treatment at both Grange-Kendal and Sandy Bay clinics is more convenient for the team and at both, the EHI has sole use year round of storage and treatment rooms. The equipment necessary for eye evaluation is either stored or brought with them by the various specialists. Medications and glasses are donated by U.S corporations while team expenses rely on grants and individual donations. All participating team members are unpaid for transportation, housing, and meals.
This Fall the team has included optometrists from Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada; a retina surgeon from Florida, a physician from Michigan, interns from the SUNY College of Optometry, an optician, and several volunteers from Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio; all under the supervision of Dr. Cross and project manager Brian Grimes. It is a diverse group, but in Jamaica they come together as an efficient team, working their various skills cooperatively and harmoniously.
Over the many years they have been coming to Jamaica, the Eye Health Institute clinics have served Jamaicans unselfishly, and been rewarded by the thanks and the friendship of those they have served. No other reward could be as satisfying.
Gregory Rodriguez has been in the Optical field since 1966, and attended the Military Optical Activities Branch school at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, CO. He dispensed for 28 years then worked for Essilor of America as a sales consultant, District Manager and national speaker and trainer for Essilor Varilux before retiring. He had a speaking and Optical training business with Michael DeSanto. Greg continues to do office new optician hires training and lab work for OD's. He is on the board for EHI (Eye Health Institute) and takes two annual trips to Jamaica to do the finishing lab work.