The August trips to the Ixcán are always very busy, rewarding and full of surprises. This year was no exception.
This trip consisted of an excellent group of optometry students from Pacific University College of Optometry’s Amigos Eye Care. The class of 2011 was represented by Kelvin So. Kelvin’s experience was a much-used resource by the younger students. From the class of 2012 there was Cristin Mattione, Kevy Simmons (the student co-leaders), Kari Burgard, Jenn Havrilla and Jesse McCarrell. From the class of 2013 we had Kelci Rolfstad, Cassie Solis, and Anna Wells. I can’t thank the students enough for their hard work, good spirits, and exceptional group organization. They were a well prepared team. We were also fortunate to have Lisette Romig from the staff at the College of Optometry. Lisette’s Spanish language skills made her our prime case history person. Dr. Brian Arvidson from Bend, OR was with us for his 5th trip to the Ixcán, and Dr. Rolando Cabrera from Guatemala City accompanied us for his 2nd trip. Our eyehealth promoters, Felipe and Arnulfo were also able to work with us the whole week as well.
We conducted 4 days of clinics in 3 different locations and examined 916 people, dispensing 463 pairs of glasses. When you add in 3 hours of travel time 2 of those days, it made for long days, but I heard no complaints. What I did hear was, “Did you see the man with the corneal scarring?” or “What do you think might have caused those retinal hemorrhages?” or “Did you see that lady smile when she put on her new glasses?” These are the comments that make working with the students so rewarding and the reason returning each year is so imperative. We’re making a difference on two fronts.
Fifty people were identified who need cataract surgeries and 8 others need other eye surgeries. That brings up the surprise of the trip. While on the road to the Ixcán, Dr. Cabrera told us of a doctor who operates a new eye clinic only 4½ hours away from the Ixcán. Through the miracle of cell phones, we were able to contact and then meet him at a pull-out on the highway and arrange to visit his clinic when we returned to Guatemala City five days later.
Most people who live in the Ixcán do not like to go to Guatemala City; too crowded, too noisy, too much traffic, intimidating and scary for these rural people. The new clinic, half the distance to the City, is in a small town that is culturally similar to the Ixcán. Over the next few months Felipe and Arnulfo will take groups of patients to the new clinic for surgeries. If the quality of patient care and surgical outcomes is good, we’ll be able add another referral resource to better serve our patients’ eye care needs. We will include a report in our next newsletter.
In another new development on the August trip, I met with a Guatemalan attorney to start the process of becoming a registered non-profit organization in Guatemala. Establishing this status will allow us to work more easily with Guatemalan organizations, governmental agencies such as the Guatemalan Ministry of Health and local communities within the Ixcán.
With each trip Enfoque Ixcán grows and matures and is able to more efficiently improve access to eye care for the Ixcán. We’re proud of our progress and pleased with the support of each of you.