Area optometrists travel to Honduras to provide eye care to rural residents, some of whom have never had glasses before

photo by: Contributed

Dr. Elizabeth Crandon performs an eye exam in Las Delicias, Olancho, Honduras.

After an organization providing eye care services had not visited Honduras in five years, a brigade of optometrists and volunteers decided they were up for the challenge — and their visit resulted in some people getting their very first pair of glasses and seeing things they had not seen clearly before.

Dr. Laurie White, the crew’s leader and an optometrist in Oskaloosa, said residents in the rural area were excited about the visit, especially because of the limited eye care available in the community.

“I think my favorite one was this woman that had this beautiful dress on,” White said. “I’m checking her and she’s way nearsighted. I’ve told people that normally a nearsighted person in the United States needs about two units (two diopters to power). She needed 13, and if you need 13 diopters, you can only see really good at about three and a half inches or so.

“Once I got even close to the power, she was just thrilled and could hardly talk,” White said. “She was so happy, and I’m sure she didn’t take her glasses off.”

After four days of offering eye care to the community, the team had given eye exams, glasses and medications to 649 individuals, ages 4 to 92, in Las Delicias, Olancho, Honduras.

photo by: Contributed

People would start waiting outside the facility in Las Delicias, Olancho, Honduras for eye exams, glasses and medications as early as 6 a.m.

“This is a little different way of traveling, but it’s a way of giving back,” said Karen Heady, another brigade member from Oskaloosa. “You see different areas, but you’re also contributing to other people and it’s just a lot of fun.”

The team that traveled to Honduras had four other optometrists, including recently retired Drs. Brent and Elizabeth Crandon, longtime operators of Crandon & Crandon at 1019 Massachusetts St.; Dr. Sam Funk from Colby; and Dr. Taylor Fiss from Michigan.

Other team members included Kevin Kressig, director of Kindred CPA; Steve Stephens, a banker; Connie Valenta, chief clerk of 2nd Judicial District Court in Kansas; Rod Smith, a science teacher from Oskaloosa; Erin Stephens, of Olathe; and registered nurse Lacey Bergerhofer from Kearney, Missouri.

The clinic trip – lasting from May 27 to June 4 – was organized by VOSH/Kansas, a chapter of VOSH/International, whose name stands for Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. The organization gathered a team of volunteers who took time away from their careers and families and personally covered their expenses to deliver care.

The route to Las Delicias was not exactly direct. The brigade flew from Kansas City to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras; from there, they were only halfway. The next morning, they had a seven-hour drive to Catacamas and a three-hour drive through rocky backroads to reach their destination.

The roads to Las Delicias were dusted with a gray powder, White said. The lack of rain for the past four months had dried out the plants, and the smoke from recent slashing and burning had deposited a layer of ash.

But all of that changed the evening they arrived. The area would have its first rain of the season, and it continued to rain every day that the team worked.

People would start lining up for services as early as 6 a.m., Steve Stephens said. Some walked over five hours to get there; others came by motorcycle on muddy roads or in pickup trucks carrying as many as 20 individuals.

photo by: Contributed

Many people would arrive to the facility at Las Delicias, Olancho, Honduras in the back of pick up trucks.

People waited in line for hours in the 90-degree heat. A man with a cooler strapped to a motorcycle capitalized on the gathering by selling ice cream.

“I bet he was averaging 40 cents an ice cream cone,” Smith said.

White mentioned that although the community members have health professionals who visit them, the services are not free, and people do not have access to them regularly, which is why the eye-care team’s presence caused some excitement.

Smith said he wouldn’t forget the smiles on people’s faces and how appreciative they were.

The thousands of glasses brought to Honduras were donated and gathered by Kansas chapters of the Lions Club. There are over 216 clubs in Kansas dedicated to meeting community needs related to vision, diabetes, hunger, the environment and childhood cancer.

After the glasses are gathered, they are sent to prisoners at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

“The prison workers will figure out the prescription with an instrument, write down the prescriptions, make sure they’re clean and not broken, put a label on them, and then they’re all sorted for us,” White said.

Finally, the glasses are collected and distributed by VOSH/Kansas on trips like this one. For the Honduras trip, the group brought 2,000 pairs of glasses with them with varying prescriptions and many different medications. White said they brought 11 bags of equipment, half of them containing glasses.

After receiving a pair of glasses, a lot of people could finally read and see things clearly that they couldn’t before — opening up new experiences to them and creating unforgettable moments for the visiting team.

As they prepared to depart from their remote mountain location, the team noted that the landscape, thanks to the rain, had become vibrant and colorful, adding to the sense of satisfaction.

“The best part of the trip is being able to supply a service to somebody that needs it so badly and you’re happy to give it,” White said.

As for the bus ride, which was treacherous on the way up, it was much better on the way home, Smith said. The dry stream beds they had crossed were now rushing with water.

“And the dusty roads that we arrived on were all mud,” Smith said. “Sliding down the hill was really smooth compared to bumping up the hill.”

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