Eye Health Institute Supports Jamaican Community
Sight is considered our most valuable of the senses and a blessing to those who have it. It changes as we age, diminishes for most of us with time, and fails completely for others. But it does not have to be that way; at least that is what the volunteers of the Eye Health Institute believe. It is for this reason that they are committed to preserving the ocular health and vision of the people of Hanover. Every year they return to provide free eye care to those in need. This time, they made an effort to identify those at risk for glaucoma, the silent thief of sight. Utilizing technology to test the optic nerve for damage and measuring intraocular pressure, EHI doctors and volunteers performed a comprehensive glaucoma screening for the various health centers in the parish.
The Eye Health Institute (EHI) of Boulder, Colorado, has been serving the parish of Hanover for over a decade to provide everything from eye examinations to eye surgery. With help from organizations such as American Friends of Jamaica, the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, the Garner Foundation and American Airlines, the scope of EHI’s 2012 mission went far beyond the direct treatment of more than 500 patients. Grants, donations and other fund-raising efforts from these organizations also allowed EHI to purchase new equipment that aid in disease detection and diagnosis. Generous grants from the American Friends of Jamaica and the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation helped EHI purchase a portable GDx (glaucoma diagnosis machine), as well as a surgical microscope and operating table. The addition of this equipment allowed EHI to screen numerous patients for optic nerve damage, and provide sight saving surgeries locally.
During the 2012 clinics, 22 doctors, nurses, surgeons and volunteers examined 516 patients, performed 10 surgeries, and dispensed hundreds of prescription and reading glasses. Dr. Peter Andrews performed five cornea transplant surgeries at Cornwall Regional Hospital, and at Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Dr. Elisha Tilton performed cataract surgeries using the new surgical microscope provided by EHI.
Dr. Richard Cross, the founder of EHI, says this year’s trip was focused on glaucoma screening due to an increased prevalence of the disease. Because of the limited access to rural eye care, many Jamaicans with glaucoma don’t receive treatment until it is too late.
“The ability to screen younger patients allows us to identify signs of glaucoma at a stage before vision loss occurs. With early diagnosis, glaucoma can often be treated with drugs or surgery to prevent blindness,” Dr. Cross explained. “Portable equipment, like the new GDx, makes that possible.”
EHI prides themselves on their commitment to the region, and their ability to outfit Hanover with state of the art ophthalmic equipment. With support from the Jamaican Ministry of Health, the Grange-Kendal Health Center, and the Noel Holmes Hospital, EHI has been able to establish a more stable presence in the area. At the Grange clinic alone, EHI has provided two complete exam rooms, an auto-refractor, optical lab, and thousands of reading glasses and sunglasses. At Noel Holmes Hospital, EHI installed a brand new surgical microscope and table. Outfitting the local clinic and hospital reduces the need to travel great distances for ocular procedures.
“We are now looking to include optometry schools in the United States and Canada to better serve the local community for a longer time. Our hope is to bring interns in and have them work at their level of training. I believe it is important for them to experience optometry as a global service, and their presence will help assure a future for our clinics here. We see a lot of the same patients on a yearly basis who count on us, and we are committed to helping them maintain good vision,” said Dr. Cross.
Brian Grimes, Vice President of EHI said, “Partnering with schools will increase our capacity and our sustainability. Interns will ensure that our patients continue to receive the latest ophthalmic procedures being used in North America. None of our EHI volunteers are paid. In fact, they take time from work and cover all their travel expenses to participate in the clinics.”
EHI is still fortunate to have a large number of dedicated members return each year. Two members that have supported EHI for years are Dr. Cross’ parents, Dick and Fay Cross. Fay is from Jamaica, and still has family on the island. “My family and I have been delighted, pleased and proud to help this endeavor,” Fay said.
Dr. Peter Andrews, who has enjoyed working with Dr. Claudine Green, and the other doctors at the Cornwall Regional Hospital Department of Ophthalmology said, ” I have been working with EHI since 2008 when I performed my first surgeries in Jamaica. We have done many transplants including one on a 3-year old boy, who is doing well now at age 6. I am honored to be able to help the people of Jamaica in need. ”
New volunteer and board member, Alyssa Robbins, says EHI’s group of dedicated volunteers was what initially attracted her to the organization. Traveling with EHI this year made her not only more passionate about the cause, but also changed her outlook on life.
“I met Dr. Cross at a networking event in Boulder, Colorado. I was always interested in optometry and was even pre-optometry when I started college. After talking about the cause they invited me to a meeting, and I knew I was among passionate, caring people. I immediately accepted their offer when I was later asked to join the board. At the clinic in Burnt Savannah was when I really saw what an incredible impact this organization has on the area.”
EHI’s success in Jamaica continues to grow on a yearly basis thanks to the support of many volunteers and the Western Regional Health Authority. Although Dr. Cross hopes to make a larger impact on the area in the near future, it’s obvious that this organization has accomplished more than he originally thought possible. EHI gives the gift of sight to more than just under-served Jamaicans; it also provides volunteers the opportunity to see how an organization can change the lives of others for the better.