July 2009




Optometrist’s vacation yields overseas service project

by David Laber EyeWorld Staff Writer

Felipe Panjoj helps a patient use the Focometer to measure her refractive error while Pedro Chom observes. Mr. Panjoj and Mr. Chom are Enfoque Ixcán’s local health promoters.

Source: Scott Pike

Pedro Chom checks a patient's visual acuities while Dr. Pike points at the eye chart.

Source: Scott Pike

A group of primary school students waits excitedly in line for their eye test at a school in the Ixcán region of Guatemala.

Source: L.E. Baskow, courtesy of Scott Pike

Dr. Pike poses with local health promoters Felipe Panjoj and Pedro Chom in front of the health post in their village, Santa Maria Tzeja.

Source: Scott Pike

One of Dr. Pike’s patients happily displays her new glasses.

Source L.E. Baskow, courtesy of Scott Pike

Seeing he could make a difference, a Pacific University professor created a not-for-profit group to provide eye care to a remote region of Guatemala Not many vacations lead to the creation of a not-for-profit, but a vacation to Guatemala was not a typical vacation for Scott Pike, O.D., professor, Pacific University College of Optometry, Portland, either.

“It was my adventure vacation,” Dr. Pike said. “It is a foreign country; I didn’t speak the language; it reminded me of my childhood dreams of running around a jungle island like in a movie.”

Dr. Pike ended up in Guatemala in 1996 because he was accompanying a friend who worked with refugees. She was interviewing one farmer, Pedro Chom, who also was a volunteer health promoter who said he was quitting his post even though he enjoyed the work because he could no longer read the prescriptions and needed glasses. To compensate for the lack of physicians in these remote areas, the Guatemala government trains local residents on the basics of healthcare.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, I can do something about this,” Dr. Pike said, one year later he set up the Enfoque Ixcán (“Focusing on the Ixcán”), and eye care project for the village.

Filling a need

The Ixcán region of Guatemala comprises about 100,000 mostly indigenous Mayan people who must travel about four to seven hours through mountainous terrain to receive basic eye care, Dr. Pike said. And more than 40% of the people need glasses, and almost 5% are going blind with cataracts.

Initially, Dr. Pike received used eyeglasses donated from Portland area Lion’s Clubs, church groups and the likes, but with as many as 90% of the donations being scratched or damaged to the point of not being usable, he began to use only the frames and then build new lenses for the glasses.

He also was able to teach the local health promoters to measure patients both physically and optically for glasses.

During one of his visits, Dr. Pike said he realized the scope of the optical problems included getting patients cataract surgery. So he worked with an ophthalmic clinic in Guatemala City to help cover the costs of surgery while Enfoque Ixcán is able to contribute about 85% of the cost to transport, house, feed and perform surgery on the patients—about $100 to $300 per patient.

“For these cataract patients, you’re changing their whole lives,” Dr. Pike said. “Not only does the procedure ward off blindness, it makes the patient feel like less of a burden on the family.”

One of his favorite examples is of a grandfather with cataracts who used to kick at his grandson thinking he was the family dog.

“The grandmother told me, ‘He no longer kicks him, but he gives him hugs,’” Dr. Pike said.

Spreading eye education

Enfoque Ixcán has two trained eye health promoters in the area, and with recent grant money, they will be able to add another, he said.

From this grant, which is for $13,850, the group also will provide educational information about eye care.

But the Ixcán people are not the only ones receiving an education.

Since 2003, Dr. Pike has brought his optometric students from Pacific University with him to help.

A few years earlier during one of his trips, a school superintendent asked Dr. Pike about starting an eye care project for the local schools, which turned out to be a 60-school, 4,000-student project.

“I’m learning that my real challenge is that I just don’t know how to say ‘No,’” Dr. Pike said. With the help of his Pacific students, he meets with two or three schools per year now.

As a result, the students are enjoying school and are becoming better learners, he said.

Ultimately, Dr. Pike said he hopes Enfoque Ixcán will provide eye care to the entire region, but he wants it to become self sustaining.

“I’m trying to work myself out of a job,” Dr. Pike said indicating he hopes the group becomes so successful, it will not need his assistance anymore.

For this to happen, he said he believes there will need to be an office created in one of the major trading cities in the region, which is proving difficult because the area is poor and isolated.

To learn more about Enfoque Ixcán or to make a donation, visit www.eiguatemala.org.

Contact Information

Pike: 703-934-8864, spike2lm@aol.com

Optometrist’s vacation yields overseas service project Optometrist’s vacation yields overseas service project
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