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VOSH-Connecticut held its third annual eye care clinic in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua on January 10-17, 2004. This was the sixth year of service at this site to the San Juan de Sur area, the third under the auspices of VOSH-Connecticut, along with three previous missions under the auspices of VOSH-NECO.

Photos from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The team consisted of five Optometrists led by Dr. Matthew Blondin and included:

Dr. Jerry Hardison, West Hartford, CT
Dr. David Kendrick (2nd VOSH-CT mission)
Dr. Brian Lynch, Branford, CT (3rd VOSH-CT mission) (CAO Legislative Liaison)
Dr. Abby Quinn, Wilton, CT (2nd VOSH-CT mission)

We were joined by nine first, second and third year optometry students from the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry:

3rd Year
Thao Tran
Ping Ye

2nd Year
Ana Vargas

1st Year
Heather Jonasson
Zibya Karolia
MiSoon Kim
Amy Lee
Theresa Lee
Kevin Talaga (Student Leader)

The Dispensary was staffed by:

Optician
Frank Zdanowicz

Assistants
Patricia Hardison
Joyce Krinitsky
Christine Stewart
Cecilia Suarez
Tommy Thompson

Joyce Krinitsky and Cecilia Suarez also performed additional duties. Both were attending their first VOSH mission, and provided invaluable assistance. Joyce helped tremendously assisting with the over-all day to day clinic organization and duties and Cecilia provided outstanding translation services second to none. We are very grateful to both for the additional volunteer efforts they provided to the mission. We also are very grateful for our volunteer, Nurse Mary Haaland, from Newton, MA, who spent the entire week volunteering and assisting us at the clinic.

We had two young teens join us as well, Olivia Quinn, 12, daughter of Dr. Abby Quinn, and Daniel Lynch, 13, son of Dr. Brian Lynch. Both provided excellent and outstanding services in pretesting and dispensing, and are a role model and leaders among young persons everywhere.

This year we had approximately half the mission members that we had last year, and initially we felt that this was going to provide some real concerns and difficulties. However, it turned out that the smaller number of mission members worked better, and we intend to continue from this point forward in future missions to limit our mission members to around the number we had this year.

A large part of the success of the mission, despite its smaller number of members, was the outstanding job done by all mission members, including the doctors, the students, Frank, our lone optician, and our additional assistants Patricia, Christine and Tommy. From the beginning, everyone worked together as a team with great energy, commitment, cooperation and enthusiasm, and with mission members ranging in age from 12 to 80, it showed how well everyone worked together throughout the mission that was a great success all around.

As in prior years, approximately 50 local residents assisted with the clinic duties, led a by local doctor Dra. Rosa Elena Bello, and two of her assistant physicians. The overall mission and clinic was again organized and directed by Audrey B. Blondin, Esq., aka "La Jefa".

Three thousand pairs of glasses from the West Virginia Lions Club were shipped in June with the grateful assistance of Dr. David Gullette. Dr. Gullette also provided student translators throughout the week, which were very helpful to us, and once again organized a physical therapy clinic as part of our over-all clinic structure, which worked very well & will continue for the future. Also assisting once again with the over-all organization on the ground was local resident Chris Berry, Esq., without whose services, knowledge, time and expertise this mission would not have been possible.

One thousand additional pairs of readers and three thousand, five hundred pairs of sunglasses were purchased and sent along. For the first time, we had the individual doctors dispensing both the sunglasses and low-powered readers, with the assistance of some nice carpenter nails bags from True Value of Litchfield. This worked extremely well & will continue for the future with enough bags for each volunteer.

We did have enough sunglasses this time so each patient seen could receive a pair, but we still ran short of readers and will make an additional adjustment for next year's mission. Electrical power was intermittent throughout the clinic days, more so than in previous years, however it provided only a slight inconvenience & had no over-all impact on the mission. We were very grateful for the donation of medications from Dr. Bradley Rosenberg from Torrington, which came in very useful during the week as needed. We also appreciated the assistance of our many volunteer translators, including the local young Smith family children and William Calderon, who all provided many hours of excellent and needed assistance during our clinic days.

The clinic was held at the Centro Escolar Enmanuel Mongalo y Rubio. It was set up on Sunday, January 11, 2004 with four examination rooms, a pre-testing room, dispensary and lunchroom. The clinic officially opened on Monday, January 12, 2004 at 8:00 a.m. Breakfast was provided each day by VOSH-Connecticut beginning at 7:00 a.m. Patients were seen from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., with a break for lunch provided by Dra. Rosa Elena Bello from 1:00-2:00 p.m., along with a daily briefing meeting. Clinic then resumed from 2:00-5:30 p.m.

On the last day, a collection was taken up and mission members donated $500.00, a $200.00 increase over last year's donations. This money was divided in thirds, and an additional $300.00 was donated by VOSH-Connecticut. $300.00 each was presented to Dra. Rosa Elena Bello for her clinic, and Principal Ann Luisa Mornplan and $200 was presented to Chris Berry on behalf of the A. Jean Brugger Project.

Over the four-day clinic period, we saw 2,530 patients broken down as follows:

             Monday          Tuesday             Wednesday            Thursday             Total
             1/12/04              1/13/05                 1/14/04                1/15/04                    
                797                   734                       639                     669                  2,530

Each mission member received a complete mission packet consisting of a VOSH-Connecticut badge and badge holder, Legal Release, mission protocol, mission schedule, clinic assignments and other relevant documents, all developed and designed by Audrey Blondin with the assistance of Nicholas Blondin and Sarai Druan. We continue to be very grateful for the assistance and services of our local American Airlines representatives at Bradley Field, Windsor Locks, CT, for allowing us once again to transport a large number of needed boxed clinic and donated items at no charge to VOSH-CT, which always helps a great deal during our clinic program.

Many residents of San Juan del Sur and the surrounding areas were served, stretching as far as the Revas area to the Costa Rican border, with many arriving by bus, taxi, horseback and push carts. In addition, during Wednesday's clinic, we serviced a busload of children from Nagarote, located about 3 hours north of San Juan del Sur, through a contact made from the Norwalk, CT Sister Cities' Program to VOSH-CT. This was a wonderful and rewarding experience, and we look forward to continuing with this in the future.

On Thursday evening, January 15, 2004, VOSH-Connecticut hosted a banquet for approximately 85 VOSH-Connecticut and local Nicaraguan volunteers at the Pelican Eyes Hotel & Restaurant, a new venue.

It was an outstanding evening in every aspect, wonderful location & dinner, with special thanks once again to Chris Berry and his terrific chef, L.B., waiters and staff. We were honored with several local dance presentations, a highlight of our program. Certificates of Appreciation were presented to all participants, as well as a gift of local wood carved items to each VOSH-Connecticut member from Dra. Rosa Elena Bello.

Pathologies encountered included cataracts, pterygia, glaucoma, corneal foreign bodies, toxoplasmosis, conjunctivitis, and retinal disease. Several melanomas were discovered, with recommendation for further follow-up treatment. Crowd control and security continued to present a great challenge, despite our decision to obtain paid security personnel for this year's clinic. We will continue to address and work on these issues to insure the safety and well-being of not only all mission members, but the patients and local volunteers as well.

The use of a paid translator in each of the exam rooms, along with Cecilia, helped a great deal with the doctors and is also something we will continue for future missions. We were honored with a visit both to our clinic and to our closing banquet by City Council Member Honorable Veronica Carmona, and we look forward to our continuing development of positive working relationships among all members of the San Juan del Sur community. Numerous drugs were donated by Alcon Laboratories, Inc., and were most appreciated and used throughout the mission. Leftovers were donated at the conclusion of the clinic to Dra. Rosa Elena Bello and the National Health Clinic. Costs of the mission continue to escalate, with this year's mission exceeding $6,000 in expenses, not including the additional $1,734.35 spent by us for other needed clinic items & expenses. We will have to continue our efforts to enhance and further develop our fundraising on behalf of VOSH-CT in order to insure adequate funding for future missions.

Despite having half the number of mission members as last year, we managed to see almost three-fourths of the number of patients that were seen in the previous year. We believe this was directly attributable to the exceptionally high quality of the entire mission membership as discussed above, along with a number of experienced and returning VOSH members and local Nicaraguan volunteers, who all worked together to provide eye care services to those in need unselfishly and with a dedication and spirit that exemplifies in every aspect the true meaning of a VOSH-Connecticut volunteer.

San Juan del Sur is a community in transition. Despite a few somewhat apparent economic development projects, serious poverty remains throughout the entire region. We at VOSH-Connecticut continue to be most grateful to Dra. Rosa Elena Bello, Chris Berry and all of the residents of the San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua area for working along with us, and allowing us the continued opportunity to be of service to such a kind, generous and deserving people.

Respectfully submitted,

Matthew Blondin, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Clinic Director
February 12, 2004

Audrey B. Blondin, "La Jefa"
Clinic Director

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