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Seeing is believing: Air Force optometrists give the gift of eyesight to hundreds

CORRIVERTON, Guyana -- Air Force optometrists Maj. (Dr.) RalphBaker and Capt. (Dr.) Dan Dillinger, know the importance of clearvision.

The two doctors volunteered to deploy here in support of New HorizonsGuyana 2009. Both natives of Rockland, Calif., they serve in the 940thAerospace Medicine Flight at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

The free medical services started in the Corriverton area July 21 and Doctor Baker and Doctor Dillinger set to work to provide eye care as many Guyanese locals lined the fence outside the hospital, waiting toget in.

"I would love to do this sort of deployment all the time," Doctor Baker said. "The people are so polite and grateful for the help."

Working out of the hospital in a tiny, but air conditioned room, withone desk, two chairs and a jug of water, the doctors will see approximately 130 patients per day during their two-week stay in Guyana.

And while the time spent with each patient is small, they try to accommodate every person and their varying optical needs.

"The eye conditions we have seen so far vary from congenital glaucoma to cataracts," Doctor Dillinger said. "Most often though, people justneed glasses to see better so it's a simple fix."

And glasses are exactly what they brought.

The hallway that leads to their office is lined with tables that have boxes full of glasses for children and adults in all sizes, styles andcolors. Even though the Air Force Reserve Command has provided more than 2,500 pairs of glasses, the team is having to ration because they are beginning to run low.

But for Doctor Baker and Doctor Dillinger, running out of glasses isn't an option.

"We brought about an extra 800 pairs that we collected from donations from the Lions Club and some from donations from our office," said Doctor Baker with a wide smile. "These are hard working people who simply can't afford to buy the glasses in their country, so we are happy to be able to provide optical care and get them the glasses they need to be able to see effectively."

In addition to providing glasses, the team also brought more than $24,000 in eye drops and eye medications to treat other conditions in children and adults.

"When we need to prescribe eye medication, we have it right here,"said Doctor Dillinger, reaching for a box of $70 eye drops. "Once I know what I need to give them I can just reach over here and grab a box right off the shelf, simple as that."

The optometrists had already seen more than 250 patients in the first two days. And judging by the line outside, it isn't likely to slowdown any time soon.

"People began lining up at the gate at 3 o'clock in the morning," said Maj. Tri Trinh, unit medical planner from the 944th Medical Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. "They are really in need of the free service we are providing and we are certainly happy to provide it."

Approximately 31 U.S. Air Force members began providing medical services in the Corriverton area to the local Guyanese population here in support of New Horizons Guyana 2009. 

The Airmen hail from Reserve and Active duty units in Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Florida, California and Arizona.The medical services cover a range of specialties from internal medicine, pediatrics, dental, optometry, gynecology and cardiology, as well as endocrinology for patients with diabetes or thyroid conditions. 

The medical team is also equipped with a pharmacy so they can provide medication to those who require prescription medication.The team will wrap up medical operations in the Corriverton area July 30. The next medical site is scheduled to run at the Timehri Primary School Aug. 10 to Aug. 21.

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