Forty-one VOSH (Volunteer Optometrists Serving Humanity) Arizona volunteers, including 11 students from the Arizona College of Optometry in Glendale, recently completed the organization’s 12th mission to provide eye care in Hermosillo, Mexico.  

The primary mission of VOSH International is to facilitate the provision and sustainability of vision care for people who cannot afford or obtain such care.  In the group were ophthalmologists, optometrists, opticians and technical support personnel, many from the Tucson area.  Our makeshift clinic was established in a community center in one of Hermosillo’s poorer northern barrios.  Over four clinic days, approximately 3,500 patients, ranging in age from five to 95 were registered and provided with eye care services.

In conjunction with VOSH, two other organizations played a vital role in the mission.  Sedesson, the Mexican State of Sonora’s equivalent of the department of social and health services, establishes goals and implements programs to eradicate extreme poverty and aid individuals with problems such as eye health and vision care needs.  Their primary responsibility was for the acquisition, transportation and registration of patients.  The Rotary Club of Hermosillo Pitic has been a longtime partner, playing an indispensible role in making logistical arrangements, setting up the multiple work areas and providing translation when needed.

 Each day, lines of patients, hundreds deep, registered and entered the community center complex.  

Karen Pachis, a SaddleBrooke resident, who still teaches nursing students part time at Pima Community College, was in a group triaging patients and checking visual acuities to assess their current problems.  On her second VOSH mission, she also operated the autorefractor, establishing an approximate refractive prescription that was helpful as a starting point in determining final prescriptions.  

Pachis reflected all of the group’s thoughts about how patient and appreciative all the patients were.

From autorefraction, patients were sent to one of seven physician stations providing a prescription and checking for eye health problems.  Those that needed further evaluation were sent to Dr. Greg Nelson, also a SaddleBrooke resident and retired ophthalmologist.

His wife Wendie, a registered nurse, and Lola Stevenson, assisted Greg.  Lola was formerly from Mexico City and provided valuable technical translation for Greg in explaining conditions ranging from glaucoma to severe diabetic retinopathy.  

Because of the intense ultraviolet exposure and lack of ongoing care, the group saw patients with cataracts much more severe than they generally encounter in stateside practices.

Patients with prescription needs were sent either for non-prescription reading glasses or for prescription eyewear.  VOSH collected and cataloged over 6,000 pairs of donated used eyeglasses.  At the dispensing area, the patient’s prescription is entered into one of several laptop computers.  A specialized program then provides a list of all close matches to the patient’s prescription.  Oro Valley residents Dianne Parrott and Judi Johnson found that the computerized program is instrumental in choosing just the right prescription for each patient.

During the last two days we the group was joined by doctors Jeffrey Kay and Daniel Twelker.  Dr. Kay, a glaucoma specialist from northwest Tucson, treated several patients with laser for diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.  Dr. Twelker, a member of the University of Arizona Ophthalmology Department, not only saw patients but also looked into ways that residents in the ophthalmology department might be able to provide cataract surgery for the hundreds of patients we saw with diminished eyesight.  

Despite the patients that we could not help, the 12th mission of VOSH was a resounding success.  If you would like to help, please consider donating used eyeglasses for next year’s VOSH mission.

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