Optometry Student Brings the SVOne to Ecuador

“Maracuyá!” In the Field with Gretchen Arneson

I am currently a 3rd year Optometry student at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO). I’ve been on five optometry mission trips from Africa to all over Latin America. I worked in marketing for seven years before deciding to go back to school for career round 2 – actually because I was inspired by those first few trips. Historically we would drag along a traditional ‘mobile’ autorefractor. Bringing it to Africa especially became such a burden, we named affectionately named it “the beast.”

This most recent trip in November 2015, in which I used the SVOne, was to Ecuador. We went to Santo Domingo through a joint effort between Illinois Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) and ICO’s student VOSH (SVOSH) chapter. We connected on site in Santo Domingo with Rotary and numerous other local community service organizations.

4-Day Trip Statistics:

  • 2,382 patients were examined
  • 2,200 new 100% UV protection sunglasses given
  • 1,500 new reading glasses given
  • 300 pairs of glasses to be made on site
  • 2,000 pairs of donated prescription glasses were given
  • 120 cataract referrals (with 60 surgeries done by the end of the week)
  • Many cases of glaucoma, infection and inflammation detected and treatment initiated

optometry student mission trip VOSH SVOSH

This was my first time trying out the SVOne and after I got the hang of it, it was so easy and accurate to use. We also had another traditional autorefractor with us and did some comparisons between the two, and the SVOne was by far more accurate than the old beast.

optometry student mission trip VOSH SVOSH

We also joined efforts with an optometry school in Ecuador (Universidad Metropolitana de Ecuador) and 13 of their students joined us in doing the eye exams. We taught them how to work with the SVOne as well. We were 19 students from ICO SVOSH, 4 optometrists through VOSH, and 11 more volunteers through VOSH Illinois.

optometry student mission trip VOSH SVOSH

The theme of the trip was “maracuyá,” which means “passion fruit” in Spanish. The Ecuadorians use maracuyá as an expression for everything. We soon learned from our Ecuadorian optometry student colleagues how to use it. Did you do something really cool? Maracuyá! Are you having a great time? Maracuyá! It’s the all-purpose expression for anything awesome. The group quickly adopted this phrase for the trip, and any great statement or act received a maracuyá. It’s a phrase that brought us all together. We still pass each other in the hall and give a “maracuyá.” Maracuyá will forever keep us connected to the people of Ecuador.

optometry student mission trip VOSH SVOSH

The work we did brought vision to many who would otherwise not have access to being functional members of society. This is definitely worthy of a “maracuyá,” for the Ecuadorians we served–but also for us. We got to learn about a culture we might never have known and make lasting connections with its people. They might not even know how much they too gave back to us.

Good glasses are critical for a successful trip. We rely on the donation of quality used glasses for the patients as well as readers and sunglasses. For many patients readers can keep them sewing or reading, and sunglasses protect them from the intense UV rays.

Vision is absolutely a human right. Many times it’s as simple as connecting the patient with a simple pair of glasses and that is what these trips can do. In cases when glasses can’t solve the problem, we work with local organizations to get them surgery if possible or resources for orientation and mobility if they have permanent vision loss.

I’m so glad to know Smart Vision Labs supports this kind of work! It is amazing what a difference a simple pair of glasses can make in one’s life. To illustrate just this point, I’d like to share this photo. The woman was a -17.00D myope, and she definitely needed glasses to take care of her little son. Also in this photo is an Ecuadorian optometry student we were working with!

optometry student mission trip VOSH SVOSH