Normally, you’d have to wait another month for this column to discuss what a generous and giving profession optometry is. But in a year with devastating wildfires in California and, more recently, Hurricane Florence’s visit to the Carolinas, this seemed like an ideal time to reflect on the generosity of the optometric profession.
Whenever there’s news of a hurricane hitting the U.S., I think back to an OD I interviewed many years ago. This doctor’s practice was all but destroyed when Hurricane Andrew tore through Homestead, FL., with winds of up to 165 m.p.h., yet he immediately opened up an office in a trailer so that he could help patients replace lost eyewear and contact lenses. This doctor and his family also opened their home, which was damaged but still habitable, to employees whose homes were damaged or destroyed and, for good measure, rescued a bedraggled looking dog that was obviously displaced by the storm.
Last year, following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, ODs and industry contributed to organizations such as the American Red Cross and Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief, which itself was created in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. According to the fund’s webpage (AOAFoundation.org/OFDR), more than 430 donors contributed in 2017, enabling the fund to award $349,500 to doctors and $16,650 to students of optometry. Industry jumped in as well, providing relief funds for doctors and helping patients replace lost eyewear.
That same generosity came through in August. Describing to the AOA News an Armageddon-like scenario of the Carr fire in California, husband and wife optometrists Curtis and Janet Newcomb had to evacuate their own home in Redding and then the home of friends, yet they kept their practice open providing not only eyecare, but hugs and prayers as well. The same for optometrist Meredith Turner, who described treating patients daily for eye irritation and allergies from the smoke.
The Newcombs also described how their vendors supplied cases of rewetting drops for patients and firefighters, and how their lab was ready to help with replacement eyewear.
Optometry has not always received the most favorable coverage from the mainstream press. For example, as the FTC mulls changes to the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, the profession’s desire to protect patients’ ocular health has become confused with trying to deny consumers a choice as to where they obtain their lenses. The same when optometrists try to expand their scope of practice so they can provide greater care to their patients.
However, besides contributing in extreme situations such as hurricanes or wildfires, optometry is a profession that provides free eye exams to infants at age six months, provides outreach of vision services to communities, and brings eyecare to individuals in other parts of the world. It’s a profession whose colleges also serve as a primary source of vision care to the surrounding community. It’s a profession whose members lobby to ensure public safety against illegal contact lens sellers and for continued access to care for veterans and that has vowed to become part of the solution to the opioid epidemic.
It’s also a profession that makes a difference every day in the lives of patients, whether it’s treating a binocular vision disorder that would otherwise prevent a child from succeeding in school, spotting an individual’s otherwise undiagnosed diabetes, or helping an older patient with vision loss due to AMD perform the most basic of tasks.
Let the season of giving continue.
Jeffrey Eisenberg | Editor-In-Chief | JEisenberg@FVMG.com