Blog submitted by Perry Athanason
Perry Athanason is the Communications Manager on the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital and has been a member of the crew since November 2007.
“Let’s do something a bit different”—this is usually the verbal trademark of something new, fresh and exciting, which was definitely the case when I sat down to write the communications and advocacy plan for the Santo Domingo Flying Eye Hospital.
Our host, the AYBAR / CECANOT hospital, recently acquired two mobile eye vans as part of an initiative to deliver eye care into rural communities throughout the Dominican Republic. Wanting to strengthen the Flying Eye Hospital’s advocacy programs, I jumped at the chance to organize and launch two separate rural screening projects with our host. When I presented the plan, they too jumped at the chance and soon enough, the ORBIS team, along with the residents from AYBAR / CECANOT were locked in a 4-hour planning meeting to outline the details of the project.
For the first day’s project we targeted two communities in dire need of health education, awareness and screening of eye diseases prevalent in the Dominican Republic—most notably cataract and glaucoma. These two areas were Cristal Rey and Los Alcarrizo – both economically disadvantaged and identified by our hosts as areas in need of basic eye screening and education.
The team from ORBIS consisted of myself (Perry Athanason), Amelia Chamberlain, Gavin Wickham, Drs Srinivas S. Iyengar, Ekta Aggarwal, Sophia Pathai and volunteer associate ophthalmologist, Dr Grace Prakalapakorn from Emory University. We were joined by several resident ophthalmologists and nurses from AYBAR / CECANOT, volunteer translators and last, but not least, Radames Collado and Sylvia Marley from FedEx.
We met at the local hospital early in the morning and boarded our vans to the first location by 10:00 am. We were met by a community ambassador team led by congresswoman, Ms Cleo Sanchez. The team quickly organized the crowd and began the screening clinic, they worked flawlessly, examining each patient and moving them through the process. Radames and Sylvia were a great help escorting patients through each station and translating the experience for both the patients and the ORBIS staff.
By 1:00 pm the team had screened approximately 90 patients, of which roughly a third received appointments for further investigations and possibly surgery at AYBAR / CECANOT hospital—a service they will provide for free under the ORBIS partnership.
The second location was about an hour ride from the first location—into the outskirts of town. Again we were met by a community ambassador team who had organized the patients prior to our arrival. We were tired from the first screening and with daylight fading fast the ORBIS crew picked up the momentum just where they had left off and screened another 75 patients.
Our local host was very well organized in its presentation of these two clinics and with the support of community leaders such as Congresswoman Sanchez and other government officials, screenings such as these are becoming more frequent in the Dominican Republic. For example, the second screening day, scheduled for the last Friday of program, consisted of a much smaller team—myself and Dr Grace Prakalapakorn. We joined the residents in yet a third location; this one required a road-trip across the country to the north…near Santiago in a small town called Sancero. This screening was organized by the Lion’s Club and true to its reputation, was handled with care, organization and professionalism. As a member of an organization whose soul mission is to combat avoidable blindness worldwide, it is quite a feeling meeting others in the field with the same goal. To see their work, their passion and their love for the communities they serve, made me even more proud and honored to be doing this type of work.
I would like to say in closing that in my year and a half with ORBIS, I have never been more proud of the individuals who embraced this idea, brought their personal and professional experiences to the table and worked together to deliver this advocacy project to the people of the Dominican Republic—my hats off to the Flying Eye Hospital team!!!
Photos by Gavin Wickham