The John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah held a free eye clinic on Nov. 10 at the Midvalley Health Center to support the health and employability of refugees in Utah.
Elizabeth Neff, associate director of public relations at the Moran Eye Center, believes that improving their eyesight may help refugees integrate into American society. “We know that there is a great need for eyecare among this population,” she said. “If you can’t see properly, you can’t read, you are much less employable, you may not be able to take care of your children.”
A number of sponsors came together to make the clinic possible. Grandeur Peak Global Advisors provided free vision screenings, comprehensive eye exams and eyeglasses. Seventeen volunteers were on site to interpret and facilitate communication between the examiners and their patients.
Moran’s Global Outreach Division collaborated with the refugee and Immigrant Center, Asian Association, the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Community Services and the Refugee Services Office to make the clinic available to refugees in Utah.
The Moran Eye center began providing refugee outreach with the first of these clinics in April and plans to continue the biannual program. In addition to the onsite services, the clinic offers diagnosis and screening for conditions such as cataracts. If the diagnosis and screening determine that surgery is necessary, patients are able to have their eyesight restored for free by undergoing surgery during the Moran Eye Center’s free surgery day in January.
“The thing that we are trying to fix is curable blindness,” explained cataract and glaucoma expert, Dr. Alan Slade Crandall, MD. Dr. Crandall is the co-director of the International Outreach Division at the John A. Moran Eye Center and he has been working to restore sight to communities locally and internationally for the last 20 years. He explained that “Everybody gets cataracts. If you live, you get a cataract.” He noted that finding a doctor and getting access to care for this condition is very difficult for certain populations.
“In Ethiopia, there is one doctor for 1.2 million people” stated Dr. Crandall, adding that as a result of this, “There are about 39 million people in the world who are blind from fixable cataracts.” As part of the Moran Eye Center’s International Outreach program, Dr. Crandall travels to countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Sudan, Haiti, Micronesia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia and Nepal to provide care to populations in need and to also help train local doctors and nurses to provide these services in the future.
The program also provides its services to local populations such as the homeless, undocumented individuals, refugees and the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.
Dr. Crandall stated that despite the dangerous conditions that his team often faces when providing these services globally, the rewards are worth it. Some of the dangers include health risks such as malaria, yellow fever or dengue fever. Dr. Crandall stated that although his wife contracted dengue fever during one of these trips and sustained damage to her kidneys, they both still continue to do this work.
“When you unpatch a kid who is blind and they hug you or you unpatch someone who sees their grandchild for the first time, that is all that you need — you don’t need money,” stated Dr. Crandall. “The rewards are not financial — it costs us a lot to go there — but the reason we are in medicine should be to help people.”
The outreach services provided by the Moran Eye clinic are made possible by donors, community volunteers and the physicians who donate their time as well as sponsors who provide supplies.
Dr. Crandall’s patients appreciate his approachable and friendly demeanor. During a visit at the clinic, Noel Landenaz, an immigrant from Venezuela, chuckled at the interpretations a volunteer provided of Dr. Crandall’s playful remarks. “The doctor is my same age and he treated me very well,” stated Landenaz, explaining that the visit was very important to him because “going to see an ophthalmologist in the city is very expensive and a lot of times we are not able to. Even if it’s just once a year, we can’t.”