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Story on VOSH doctors in the Providence Journal:

So That Others May See

Reproduced here as a backup.

So that others may see
Three eye doctors donate their time and expertise at a clinic in Nicaragua, where, over a four-day period, they administered about 2,800 eye examinations and distributed about 2,300 pair of eye glasses.

Journal Staff Writer

Fatima Calero, a 13-year-old from Nicaragua, had only one eye before she met optometrist Lawrence T. Ginsberg.

While her left eye was healthy and intact, a concave eye lid covered her empty right eye socket. The badly infected eye was removed by a Nicaraguan doctor when she was four-years-old.

``I remember her face perfectly,'' said Ginsberg, who resides in Barrington and works in East Providence. She is pretty, he said, and has long, dark hair. He remembered that her appearance made her sullen and introverted.

But now, she is smiling, thanks to Ginsberg who donated $150 to pay for a prosthetic eye.

Calero is one of nearly 3,000 patients who received free eye and medical treatment in Nicaragua during the third week of January, when 60 eye and medical doctors, nurses, optometry students from State University of New York, and translators traveled to Nicaragua.

The group was on a mission organized by the Northeast chapter of VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity), a national organization of optometrists and others dedicated to providing vision care to people who are not able to afford or obtain it.

They set up a clinic in a school next to the central square of La Concepcion, Nicaragua, known to locals as La Concha.

About forty miles from the capital city of Managua, the clinic consisted of a registration area and ten rooms for pre-testing, eye exams, an eyeglass dispensary, medical exams and a pharmacy.

Approximately, the group gave 2,800 eye exams, distributed 2,300 pairs of glasses and 14 wheelchairs, conducted 1,000 general medical exams, dispensed $10,000 worth of medication, and performed 20 cataract surgeries during a four day period.

The doctors brought their own supplies and medication, and each paid for their airfare and lodging.

Hundreds of young and old Nicaraguans waited in line on each of the four days to see the doctors from 8:30 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m. Some arrived at the clinic at 1 or 2 a.m. to wait in line while others waited for half the day in the sun to receive treatment.

To thank the doctors, some of the patients gave letters, fruit and handmade candy. Ginsberg remembered one woman who blessed him in Spanish throughout her exam.

``These people were just really appreciative of us being there,'' he said. ``Virtually none of them had eye exams in their life.''

According to Northeast VOSH chairman Carl Sakovits, an optometrist who works in Bristol and lives in Jamestown, glasses, eye surgery and treatment for eye diseases are not available to the general population in Nicaragua, a Central American country that has suffered natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and a declining economy.

Nicaraguans are very limited in terms of medicine and the country lacks basic medical equipment. The medical specialists that do exist tend to treat the wealthy, Sakovitssaid.

For Ginsberg, his first trip to Nicaragua was a life-change experience and the highlight of his professional career. ``Where we live, what we have, it's easy to take for granted,'' he said.

First-timer Stephen Grimes, of Portsmouth, returned to Rhode Island with similar reflections. ``It was the most rewarding experience of my professional career -- bar none,'' Grimes said. ``I'll definitely go back -- in a heartbeat.''

Grimes, who works in Middletown, performed 20 cataract surgeries during the trip in the only hospital in Masaya, Nicaragua, located about 30 minutes from the clinic.

He used a technique that he has not used since the 80s due to the lack of technological resources in Nicaragua. While in the U.S. technology allows Grimes to make a smaller incision and avoid using stitches, he made bigger incisions in Nicaragua and used five to eight stitches.

``Everyone I saw was pretty desperate,'' said Grimes, who traveled to Nicaragua with his son, Matthew Grimes, 23. ``It did make me appreciate what I've got here, personally and professionally.''

For Sakovits, this past trip was his 13th VOSH mission and third to Nicaragua. A Jamestown resident and Bristol eye doctor, Sakovits took his first trip in 1987, when he was a third-year optometry student at the State University of New York.

``It's very much enhanced my life. It's become part of my life. It's become central to my well-being. Not only do we give a lot, but we get a lot,'' Sakovits said. ``I guess you can say it's becoming an addiction, but it's a very satisfying one.''

``The long and short of it is you get this group of people together and miracles happen,'' he said.

Ginsberg, Grimes and Sakovits were three of 19 Rhode Islanders on the trip. The others that traveled to Nicaragua were Peter Eudenbach and Harry Eudenbach of Newport; Jessica Andreozzi, Rocco Andreozzi, Joe England, Maryann England, Sarah England, James Donnely, Diane Forest, Geherly Gomez, Ed Greenan, Susan Seidler, William W. Smith III, Rosita Smith-Viduarre, and Eileen Tiexiera of Jamestown; and Diane Brown-King of Smithfield.

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Journal Company
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