An eye opening experience: OT professor improves Guatemalan eye care, promotes sustainable clinic

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In Guatemala, an 80-year-old woman received cataract surgery, transforming her visual world. Her newfound sight prolonged her life and allowed her to continue living a fulfilling life.

An elderly man would mistake his grandchildren playing on the ground for their dogs. He would kick and “shoo” them away, but now after his eye surgery, he hugs them instead.

One man would walk miles to get to the fields where he worked, but during the early mornings and late evenings he would fall because he couldn’t see the unpaved path. The man would cry, not knowing how he was going to raise food for his family. But after his impaired vision was fixed by surgery, he is doing great.

These are the kinds of stories that keep Pacific University Optometry Professor Scott Pike returning from trips to Guatemala to help the underserved country with eye care.

Pike started a sustainable project for eye care in Guatemala in 1997 and has been training local people, most with only a third grade education, how to perform basic eye care.

In 2010 he rented an office space in a small village, the room no larger than 11 feet by 10 feet, in the North Western region.

“The office gave us a more central location that brought in more patients,” Pike said. “The students from [the College of Optometry,] the AMIGOS, started travelling with me down there in 2003.”

The AMIGOS club is the largest club in the College of Optometry. This organization of students can travel to underdeveloped countries to provide eye care.

Every summer a group of students in the club go to Guatemala for a week. In four days last summer, the group saw 1,369 patients. The other two days were spent traveling to different schools to help improve the vision of people in different communities. Both the AMIGOS club and the health promoters have helped more than 12,000 patients with their vision.

In order to really raise money for patients who need professional care, Pike was one of the people to help create a non-profit, Enfoque Ixcan, in order to give health promoters the means to equip and establish eye care for the community.

Currently, Pike is working on creating a sustainable clinic. Last year Pike spoke with a health office in a major trading community in Guatemala and they suggested Pike use some of their land to build a clinic. The health office is currently in the process of building a new hospital that would be right next door to the clinic.

“Last summer we raised a little over $20,000 dollars,” Pike said. “But we don’t want to build a clinic until the hospital is finished.”

During the next AMIGOS trip in August, they will check in with the progress being made toward the hospital. Pike already has an architect he is working with and has a solid plan in the making.

“They need access to care in this region,” Pike said. “The government isn’t going to do anything about it, and one of the reasons the health office is so good about helping us out with a piece of land and everything, is because we are doing something they can’t do, but something they need.”

Optometry Professor Tracy Doll agrees with Pike and acknowledges that working with health promoters for eye care is needed.

“Working with existing infrastructure and getting locals trained in screenings helps Guatemalans take charge of their own care, in conjunction with international aid,” Doll said.

Looking to the future of eye care in the remote jungles of Guatemala, Pike and other professionals realize the region carries about 100,0000 people, and they still have a lot of work to do.


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