Optometry shines as focal point of La Blanca MEDRETE
LA BLANCA, Guatemala — During Exercise BEYOND THE HORIZON 2016 GUATEMALA, Air Force optometrists and optometry technicians have seen an average of 200 to 250 patients each day of the medical readiness training (MEDRETE).
The MEDRETE is set to provide medical services to more than 6,000 local residents. The medical services include dentistry, optometry, gynecology, women’s health, pediatrics, general medicine and pharmaceutical medicine.
“Our optometrists have seen more patients than any of our other services,” said John Henry, 42nd Medical Group medical readiness flight chief.
Approximately one third of the residents seeking care visited the optometrists for services and the staff immediately noticed just what kind of difference they were making for the people of the area.
“It means a lot to me to be able to help these people get medical care that they may not have access to,” said Air Force Airman 1st Class Angel Burdette, 42nd Medical Group optometry technician. “It’s a great feeling to see their faces light up after giving them a pair of prescription glasses and watching them react to being able to see clearly again and for some the first time ever.”
Seeing the influx of patients was no easy task since the optometrists and technicians are not able to use all of their equipment and tools from their clinics.
“For this mission, we had to use our traditional methods of providing an eye prescription,” said Burdette. “We aren’t able to use our phoropter from our home station clinic, so we judge the best we can using an eye exam and then trial and error to find a precise prescription for the patient.”
Even amongst the large number of patients seen by the two optometrists and two optometry technicians, there were unforgettable moments that go a long way to showing just how much of a difference this mission makes on the lives of the patients.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people who normally cannot afford these types of services,” said Air Force Maj. Robert Carlsen, 22nd Aerospace Medical Squadron optometry flight commander. “A memorable moment for me was when we treated a young girl with extremely nearsighted vision. When we gave her a set of prescription glasses, her face immediately lit up with a smile because, she could actually see her mother’s face for what was probably the first time ever.”
The optometrists and technicians noticed a trend between many of their patients that is a major cause of vision damage.
“We see a lot of patients that have damage to their eyes from the sun,” said Carlsen. “We have given out hundreds of glasses and sunglasses to patients to correct their vision and help prevent their eyes from further damage.”
In addition to preventing future eye and vision damage, the optometrists and technicians provide these communities an even longer-lasting ability.
“One of the unique things about optometry on this mission is that we have the ability to directly impact these kids’ future,” said Carlsen. “A lot of these kids may have felt they weren’t able to pursue certain careers because of their vision, but with our help early in their lives, it could potentially lead to a higher chance of them pursuing their dreams.”
Many of the patients showed their appreciation for the optometry services in a variety of ways. Some said it with a simple smile, others with hugs or kisses on the cheek, but overall the message of thankfulness seemingly remained the same.
“Thank you so much for helping me to see again,” said Penelope Martinez, La Blanca resident. “This [clinic] is a blessing for us all in La Blanca.”
Though the optometrists and technicians were Air Force members, they made sure to credit each of the participating organizations for their part in making the mission a success.
“We have really enjoyed working alongside the U.S. Army, Guatemalan military and the Reserve Officer Training Corps,” said Carlsen. “It’s great to see how we can all pull together to provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Guatemala.”
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