Technology and Training Brings Vision to Guatemala

Submitted on July 23, 2010 at 8:26 AM

The gift of vision can bring tears to the eyes. Ophthalmic students from Volunteer State Community College witnessed such reactions as part of a recent medical mission trip to Guatemala. The project, organized by the Hendersonville Rotary, brings the gift of sight to hundreds of people. This year, new technology helped meet the vast need, thanks to a device called an autorefractor.

"It's a huge improvement in technology for the trip," said Vol State ophthalmic technician director Alisha Cornish. "The portable autorefractor is a computerized device that allows us to see more people, by reading prescriptions quicker. There were a couple of days when we saw over 150 people. You need that technology and the students who know what they are doing."

Vol State students have been part of the mission trip for the last four years. It serves needy people in Guatemala City with vision, medical and dental care, help that they would probably not receive otherwise. Hendersonville Dentist Dr. Bill Taylor leads the trip each year. The mission has helped thousands of people since it began in 1996.

The Vol State students use the portable autorefractor to do a quick vision assessment and depending on the level of need, move on to match the person with the optimum prescription. They choose from 2000 pairs of donated eyeglasses that were tested and labeled by Vol State students in Gallatin. Once fitted with glasses, many of the Guatemalans found themselves being able to see clearly for the first time in their lives.

"We had many older people who had not been able to read the bible or sew for a very long time," said student Nancy Robinson of Lebanon. "It made them extremely happy and they cried. They told us it was the first time they had ever been given anything."

"I've visited many countries throughout the world, but this is the first time that I have visited somewhere with the knowledge and resources to help other people with the gift of better vision," said student Mike Ross of Gallatin. "So many of these people do not have the money to buy food, much less something we consider a commodity like glasses."

"The trip really opened my eyes to just some of the things that are in this world, both good and bad," said Tayler Tomlin of Ashland City. "The people of Guatemala live in horrible conditions, but they were all happy. I realized that there are a lot of people out there who are less fortunate than me, but they are happy and thankful for the things they have. Being able to give something to those people that they will truly be able to appreciate was a wonderful experience."

In addition to Robinson, Ross and Tomlin ophthalmic students Hilary West of Lebanon and Tara Fish of Gainesboro went on the mission trip.

The Hendersonville Rotary and Vol State split the cost of the portable autorefractor. It will go on the yearly mission trip and the rest of the time it will be available for Vol State students to use at the College.

"It will help us do better vision screenings in the community here in Tennessee," said Cornish. "It also gives students practical experience with an autorefractor before they walk into a clinical setting."

For more information on the Hendersonville Rotary mission trip visit www.hendersonvillerotary.org/EventsProjects/Medical_Trips and for more information about the ophthalmic program at Vol State go to www.volstate.edu/OphthalmicTech

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