Dr. Murphy – History of Charity Vision Care in Jamaica
Through the years I have participated in over 40 charity vision care projects in five countries. I welcome sharing some history and memories of the rewards of participating in these projects in underdeveloped countries. I truly believe that my specializations in optometry and low vision conditions have given me the tools to reach out to those in need in a unique and life-changing way. This calling to donate my time and expertise by participating in charity eye care projects has led me to places that I never could have imagined when I graduated from university and began work in my field.
Our chosen charity group, Canadian Vision Care (CVC), had its beginnings with a program that was funded by a Canadian Government program (CIDA) along with University of Waterloo resident internship program, and Jamaican Lions Clubs.When CIDA stopped funding the program, the Jamaican Lions Club contacted the first group of students that had participated in the internship program, and had since graduated from the Optometry program. This initial group of classmates and optometry colleagues enthusiastically took the initiative to carry on the charity vision care project in Jamaica, and with the combined efforts of the Lions clubs, they set their mission to give the gift of sight to children and adults that otherwise would not get essential eyecare through preventative vision care programs.I joined the group the second year into the inception of CVC, which has been an Alberta based Canadian Registered Charity since 1981.
Simply put, CVC’s mandate is to provide essential eyecare for two risk exposed groups- the young and the old. To get beyond the cycle of poverty, a child in a developing country needs to be able to see well in order to learn optimally. Access to essential eyecare and a simple pair of glasses are critical to their ability to best learn at school. For the aged, a pair of reading or prescription glasses, and early diagnosis of glaucoma, cataract, and other sight threatening diseases are essential needs that go unmet for too many people. Over 50% of third world blindness is due to cataracts, which can be treated when clinicians and surgeons are coordinated in a well orchestrated manor. CVC teams set up clinics throughout Jamaica to do eye exams, provide prescription and reading glasses when needed, as well as screen for eye disease in order to resource treatment plans that are coordinated with local, and Canadian surgical teams through CVC surgical projects.
Out of all of the cases that I have participated in during my yearly charitable projects, the two that I recall with the utmost fondness are the cases of Juliet and Rudolph, two Jamaican children. Their loss of eyesight was due to corneal scarring from untreated eye infections, most likely from contaminated water in their rural Jamaica settings. These two children travelled to Canada for six months in 1987, where they each underwent corneal transplants performed free of charge by Dr. Thad Demong and Rockyview Hospital facilities. In Rudolph’s case, he ultimately needed a second surgery when he rejected the first new cornea, but after a six-month stay in Canada both Juliet and Rudolph returned home with recovered sight- Juliet seeing well enough to thread a needle. This six-month stay in Calgary grew into ‘celebrity status’ with it happening during the Calgary -hosted ’88 Winter Olympics. They had opportunity to meet the Jamaican bobsled team that ventured into our cold climate for a first time Jamaican winter sport event, with their own sight-saving surgeries being equally in the limelight.
Unfortunately, about a year later, due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Gilbert, Juliet’s follow up care was neglected resulting in Juliet’s corneal transplants ultimately being rejected. Even though Juliet ultimately lost her vision once again, she never lost her zest for life. We still keep in touch through regular phone calls and during my annual trips to Jamaica. I have watched her blossom into a remarkable and resourceful woman with a family of her own. A mother of four, she faces her vision challenges without hesitation. I share her story with you because she serves as an inspiration not only for me, but also for my young son who has connected with Juliet’s family through a friendship with her youngest child. He welcomes sharing his chore earnings with Juliet’s family for their projects that help them sustain their household. One year in particular he donated money accepted in lieu of gifts on his 8th birthday to go towards the purchase of chicks, feed and shelter for Juliet’s family to raise chickens. We as a family continue to help support Juliet’s family by helping to send her late teenage sone to college so that he can provide financial support for his family. Cases like Juliet and Rudy’s leave me humbled as I witness the impact of my charitable work on the lives of those I treat over the passage of time.
Caring for eyes through these projects bridges distant communities with the blessing of new sight. Watch for future updates about more of our Canadian Vision Care contributions and projects.