Mission to the Dominican Republic

By Arthur Low, O.D.

Almost every year for the last 11 years, I have made a Lions In Sight trip to Latin America in November. But this year is the first time the destination was not in Mexico for me. Actually, there are 10-11 trips every year sponsored by LIS and usually 1 or 2 are in countries other than Mexico. LIS has held eye clinics in Africa, Turkey, India, Philippines, Peru, Panama, and many other countries. In fact, there will be a trip to Ghana in 2016. Every trip is unique and the team has to be flexible and work with whatever the situation dictates.

This year’s trip was a big one, consisting of 8 optometrists and 13 technicians/translators. One of the volunteer translators was Cynthia Dodd, principal at Rolling Hills Middle School and City of Campbell Planning Commission member. Her fluency in Spanish came in handy and this trip was her second one with me. Another couple from this area was Chris and Lee Morris from San Jose. But instead of two clinic days, we had four clinic days with one day off in between. It was a very successful clinic in that we saw 3900 patients and dispensed over 3000 pairs of eyeglasses. But the team faced some challenges.

First of all, when we surveyed the clinic site the day before set up, the place was filthy, with bird droppings on the floor, and very dusty. We were not even sure that the few electrical outlets worked. Good thing that we had a drought in California and were used to flushing the toilet with buckets of saved shower water because that was how it was done there. By the next day, the local Lions had done a credible job of cleaning the place but still no running water. And there was electricity only some of the time to power the fans to cool us down in the 85 degree weather.

The main issue on day one of the clinic was that LIS had sent 7000 pairs of eyeglasses to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic a week before the clinic but they were still stuck in customs. Luckily, there were a few hundred pairs of eyeglasses left over from the Haiti trip in March 2015. So some of the morning patients had to come back to get dispensed the proper prescription. Luckily, the eyeglasses arrived in the afternoon.

We probably saw a few hundred school age children and most of them had good vision and did not need a prescription. However, when told they had “good eyes,” they had this long face and were disappointed. After waiting all that time in line, they wanted something. Fortunately, I had brought some pens with me to give them and we also had some non prescription sunglasses for them as well.

As with the clinics in Mexico, there were many older patients who had never had any eyecare whatsoever so many reading glasses were dispensed. In fact, we almost ran out of some powers. One disappointing fact was that the local Lions were not able to arrange for cataract surgeries for those who needed it and there were a few dozen people who could have used it.

The nice thing about going on Lions In Sight clinic trips vs trips arranged by other groups is that we are hosted by a local Lions Club who are responsible for feeding and housing us. The accommodations are usually adequate, about 3- stars, and the food pretty good. But on this trip, the food at the restaurant in the hotel was NOT good. It was salty and the meat was almost like beef jerky. One day, we went into town to find better food instead of eating at the hotel. And guess what, there was an upscale Denny’s there. Boy, did that grand slam taste good! And the bathroom was like one at a 5 star hotel.

The major negative incident on this trip was that one of the docs had to stay almost an extra week recuperating in a hospital. Usually the worse illness that happens on these trips is a couple of days of GI distress either from too much tequila or drinking non bottled water. All of us got mosquito bites but Dr. John Demshar got bitten by one that was carrying the Dengue Fever virus. He started getting sick on the last day of clinic and most of us decided to stay an extra three days after the clinic at a resort in Puncta Cana, about 3 hours away by bus. When his symptoms did not get better and his temperature stayed at 102, he was taken to a nearby hospital where the diagnosis was quickly made. Since the disease was caused by a virus, there were no antibiotic drugs to help. Treatment consisted of an IV drip to hydrate the body so that the immune system can better fight the virus. The hospital was actually quite nice because we were out of Santo Domingo and in a resort area that caters to “gringos.” In case you were wondering, the stay at the hospital was paid by Lions In Sight, another good reason to go with them. It was also very nice of one of the techs, Paul Wagner, a retired school administrator, to stay with Dr. Demshar until he was stabilized enough to travel. I am sure that Dr. Demshar will soon be going on more trips in the coming year.

Please visit lionsinsight.org to learn more about these trips and don’t forget to save your used eyeglasses to donate to us. We have collection boxes at the Campbell Denny’s on 2060 South Bascom Av., my office on 621 East Campbell Av. and soon in many local Starbucks.

Category: General