VOSH-Connecticut held its sixth annual eye care clinic in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua on January 6-13, 2007. This was the ninth year of service at this site to the San Juan del Sur area, the sixth under the auspices of VOSH-Connecticut, along with three previous missions under the auspices of VOSH-NECO.The team consisted of five Optometrists led by Dr. Matthew Blondin and included: Dr. Jerry Hardison (4th VOSH-CT mission), Dr. Brian Lynch(6th VOSH-CT mission)(CAO Legislative Liaison), Dr. Abby Quinn (5th VOSH-CT mission) and Dr. David Kendrick of British Columbia, Canada(4th VOSH-CT mission).

We were joined by 16 first, second and third year optometry students from the University of California School of Optometry at Berkeley: Premilla Banwait, Andrea Buitrago, Alvaro Castillo (Student Leader), Benjamin Cheung, Kandy Guan, Kelly Kao, Charis Lau, Jimin Lee, Sarah Lewis, Selene Lum, Jessica Neuville, Eileen Ng, Melody Tavakoli, Matthew Wilkening, Grace Young and Way Yu., as well as Nick Blondin (2nd VOSH-CT Mission), 3rd year UCONN Medical School.

Alvaro Castillo did a terrific job as student leader under some difficult circumstances, and displayed a maturity and professionalism resulting in tremendous respect & appreciation from the mission leaders. While the clinical skills of the students this year was excellent, several of the 2nd year Berkeley Optometry students failed to grasp an understanding of the cultural differences between our two countries. Future students participating in missions will be more thoroughly screened, and will clearly understand and respect the cultural differences & mission protocol prior to being allowed to participate in the mission.

In addition to the doctors and students, the following volunteers were included: “La Jefa” Segunda: Joyce Krinitsky (4th VOSH-CT mission), Translators: Mary Beth Manley, Susi Ruiz & Katie Harrison (rising 1st year optometry student), Opticians/Dispensing Assistants: Dottie Byus(3rd VOSH-CT mission), Mareshah Lynch (3rd VOSH-CT mission), Olivia Quinn(4th VOSH-CT mission) and Tommy Thompson(4th VOSH-CT mission) and Pre-testing/Project Assistants: Joe Blondin (Notre Dame senior & rising 1st year UCONN Dental School student, 2nd VOSH-CT mission) Lyndsey Piehl (3rd year St. Mary’s College nursing student), Joe Lynch (8th grade-2nd VOSH-CT mission) and Robyn Kendrick, daughter of Dr. David Kendrick.

Joyce Krinitsky continues to do her outstanding job as second in command, and the mission would not be success that it was without all of her help, assistance & support. Opticians Dottie Byus and Mareshah Lynch returned to run the dispensary and did an excellent job, particularly at the beginning of the mission when supplies were short. Tommy Thompson & Olivia Quinn continue to be outstanding additions & helpers in the dispensary. The pre-testing tasks and patient assistance were handled in a great way all around by eighth grader Joe Lynch, as well as Joe Blondin & Lyndsey Piehl. Joe & Lyndsey together took almost 2,000 blood pressures, heights & weights during the 4 day clinic. Robyn Kendrick provided outstanding help & assistance with a portable lensometer, and excellent translating services by both Marybeth Manley & Katie Harrison were a great help to us throughout the entire mission. Approximately 50 local residents assisted with the clinic duties, led for the ninth time by local doctor Dra. Rosa Elena Bello, with assistance by school Principal Ana Luisa Mora.

Three thousand pairs of glasses were purchased by VOSH-Connecticut from the Virginia Lions Club, along with 3,000 pairs of sunglasses & 1,000 pairs of readers. Also assisting with the over-all organization on the ground was local resident Chris Berry, Esq., along with his two assistants, Vilma Bustos & Oswaldo Meza, Pelican Project Director Kathy Knight, and photographer Cesar, who took some wonderful photographs. Cesar prepared a power-point presentation of the mission. We also thank the entire helpful & knowledgeable Pelican staff, without whose service, knowledge, time and expertise this mission would not have been possible. Because of the current global situation, it is no longer possible to transport any mission supplies with us. This mission is only able to continue because of the generosity & support of Chris Berry & Pelican Eyes, who allowed us space on their shipment container. We cannot emphasize enough how appreciative & grateful we are to Chris Berry, because as stated, without him, this mission will cease to exist. In addition, because of the changing political climate in Nicaragua, we are extremely grateful for the support & assistance of San Juan del Sur Mayor Eduardo Hollmann, who arranged for us to be met at the airport by a Representative from MINSA, allowing us to avoid the lengthly time spent in customs during the last several missions. We are also grateful to Jane Mirandette, Mike & the Villa Isabella for all of their help & assistance for many of the mission members who stayed there. We also appreciate Angelo LaMonica for his generous donation of candy supplies for the patients, John Hudson for his translating assistance and Nicole Rolli for her help & assistance with all aspects of this mission.

The clinic was held for the ninth year at the Centro Escolar Enmanuel Mongalo y Rubio. It was set up Sunday, January 7, 2007 with 5 examination rooms, a pre-testing room, dispensary & lunchroom. The clinic officially opened on Monday, January 8, 2007 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 VOSH-Connecticut from 1:00-2:00 p.m., along with a daily briefing meeting. Clinic then resumed from 2:00-5:00 p.m. As in the past, VOSH-Connecticut provided for all expenses for both mission members and local volunteers relating to the clinic including breakfast, snack, lunch and the closing banquet. Over 90 people attended the closing banquet, with terrific local entertainment provided by Pelican Eyes, and Dr. Abby Quinn was presented with engraved 5 year appreciation plaque from VOSH-CT.

Over the four-day clinic period, we saw 2,359 patients broken down as follows:

Monday          Tuesday             Wednesday            Thursday           Total

1/08/07            1/09/07              1/10/07                1/11/07

6504                628                    600                      627                  2,359

We are at a comfortable level of approximately 500-600 per day for each of the 4 clinic days, and this serves as a general guide for an average pace going forward for the future. As in years’ past, physical therapy students under the direction of Dr. David Gullette of Simmons College provided additional patient services as well as translators for the clinic, for which we continue to be very grateful.

Throughout the mission, all communications were held in both English and Spanish, as in years’ past. Common pathologies continue to be encountered including cataracts, pterygia, glaucoma, corneal foreign bodies, toxoplasmosis, conjunctivitis, retinal disease, hypertension and some cancers. Our paid security staff returned once again, and provided excellent & safe services for all not only at the gate but at each exam room as well.

Numerous drugs were donated by Alcon Laboratories, Inc., Allergan Pharmaceuticals and Dr. Bradley Rosenberg, and were most appreciated and used throughout the mission. Leftovers were donated at the conclusion of the clinic to Dra. Rosa Elena Bello. Encore Optical continues to be very generous in their donation of lenses & services to patients with special needs, for which we are very grateful.

Over-all, we were very pleased with this year’s patient count of 2,359, an increase of 76 patients over last year’s count of 2,283. This can be attributed not only to the on-going need for our services, especially in the out-lying areas surrounding San Juan del Sur, but also the tireless efforts of Joyce Krinitsky, Kathy Knight & Jane Mirandette who worked so hard to make needed arrangements for transporting patients to the clinic. VOSH-CT hired a bus to bring patients in from the local & surrounding areas for all 4 days, arranged for public announcements throughout the area & provided for a 2nd day of bus service from San Jorge, which will be increased to all 4 clinic days next year. While the immediate San Juan del Sur area is showing some signs of economic growth & improvement, the areas surrounding San Juan del Sur continue to suffer extreme poverty & need, and this year’s efforts led by Joyce, Kathy & Jane proved immensely successful in our goal to provide services & help as many people in need as possible during the 4 day clinic.

As noted above & has been the case for the past several years, change and development continues to accelerate at a rapid pace in San Juan del Sur. Infrastructure issues, including lack of electricity & water supply continue to present challenges for both mission members & residents, as well as a 4.0 earthquake that was experienced early in the morning of January 11th. One student suffered a stingray bite at the beach, and several other students experienced severe bug bites, necessitating treatment with antibiotics. In addition, Wednesday, January 10th, was a national holiday to celebrate the inauguration of the new President Daniel Ortega, and many residents spent the day at home watching the events unfold on television.

This mission continues to be the success that it is, not because of what is done by the mission directors, but because of the generosity & support of all our wonderful mission members, as well as all of our local volunteers. Many of these returning volunteers will be celebrating with us next year in our upcoming 10th year of service to the San Juan del Sur community. Service above self is taken to heart by each & every mission volunteer, and for that we remain extremely committed & grateful to all those who give so unselfishly & generously of their time, energy, experience & knowledge not only to us personally, but to the kind & grateful residents of San Juan del Sur and surrounding communities.

Respectfully submitted,

Matthew Blondin, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Clinic Director
January 26, 2005

Audrey B. Blondin, “La Jefa”
Clinic Director