Bringing eye health to one person at a time

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By Barbara Klugh

“The World Health Organization says functional blindness is the number one disability in the world,”said Sandy Foote. “This is because of the lack of access to eye care.” The good news is that 80 percent of visual impairment is either preventable or curable with treatment.

Bob Foote examines a child with an eye infection.

Bob Foote examines a child with an eye infection.

Grace Parishioners Bob and Sandy Foote having been working for years bringing eye services to those in the developing world who need eye care. This week, they are part of the medical eye mission team that is providing primary eye care for 800 people who lack access to eye care in La Esperanza, Honduras. Fr. Ed Emenheiser, retired rector of Grace Church, is also part of the team of 17 people, which includes three optometrists, and two third-year optometry students. “The students get to see what they’ve only read about in textbooks,” said Bob. “It’s a great experience for them.”

Anne Montgomery gives a glaucoma test.

Anne Montgomery gives a glaucoma test.

Over the years, Grace parishioners Bill, Penny, and Emily Pierce, Bill and Anne Montgomery, and Mary Pierce, have served with Bob on one or more eye mission trips.

“People come and we take care of them,” said Bob. “Everyone’s welcome.” “Truly we are called to helping person to person. It’s very rewarding,” added Sandy. “We’ve seen kids grow up, we’ve seen babies born, people who graduated from college,” said Bob, who is making his 22nd trip to La Esperanza.”One young man brought his fiancée to meet us.” Bob has also served on eye missions in Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Sandy recalled a young boy with Marfan syndrome, which caused extreme nearsightedness. He was unable to walk unaided or play with the other children, and his parents brought him to the clinic. “With contact lenses and glasses we were able to give him sight. His parents were in tears when they saw him running around,” Sandy said. “This is a huge life-changing event that is very humbling to me.”

The team is sponsored by Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH-MI) and the La Esperanza Lions Club.

As a Doctor of Optometry (OD), Bob, 61, gives the same quality eye exams as he does at Traverse City Eye here in Traverse City, though under somewhat more challenging conditions. “We just have to be creative in a place where we don’t have the resources we’re used to,” said Bob.

Fr. Ed Emenheiser testing a patient's vision.

Fr. Ed Emenheiser testing a patient’s vision.

Sandy, 61, is a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Coagulation Specialist in Bleeding Disorders at Munson Medical Center. On the mission trip she organized the complex logistics of getting 3,000 pounds of supplies inventoried, cataloged, and packed. “I sure miss the days when you could take 70 pounds in one suitcase,” said Bob. They packed 2,500 donated pairs of used glasses, 800 pairs of sunglasses, and a supply of uncut lenses so they can make glasses on site when needed. They also packed $40,000 worth of drugs donated by Alcon Labs.

“I sort of regret that I can’t do more of it,” said Bob. Sandy added, “We feel called to do this—we’re pretty passionate about it. We use the skills we have and are blessed to know that there are people we can help–these life changing events bring shouts of joy and tears of gladness.”

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