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Rural Eye Clinic for Children

For the 10th consecutive year, Sight Savers America and UAB Ophthalmology teamed up to bring eye care services to children who would otherwise not have access to eye care. In April 2015, more than 80 children received free eye exams in Perry County, Ala., where there are no practicing ophthalmologists or optometrists.

“Vision is vitally important. Eighty percent of what a child learns growing up is learned through the visual process,” says Jeff Haddox, CEO of Sight Savers America. “In these areas there is not an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, and children may have to drive as much as an hour and a half to get to an eye care provider. Many of the parents either don’t have transportation or can’t afford to go that far, so we bring the eye care to them.”

UAB pediatric ophthalmologist Anne-Marie Arciniegas Bernal, MD, staffed the 2015 clinic along with two residents: Kevin Bray, MD, and Jack Parker, MD. Through a partnership with Lens Crafters, children who are prescribed eyeglasses get to choose their new glasses onsite. In 2015, LensCrafters provided 55 children free pairs of glasses.

The clinic has become a resounding success, but when Haddox first proposed the idea of a travelling eye care clinic to UAB pediatric ophthalmologist Martin Cogen, MD, he was skeptical.

“My initial reaction was that this was going to be astronomically difficult,” Cogen says. In ophthalmology it’s not as simple as a black bag and a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff. You need a lot of equipment to do a state-of-the-art eye exam.”

Haddox persisted, however, and the team gathered enough equipment to hold the first rural eye clinic. After the first clinic, Dr. Cogen was convinced that they could accomplish a lot of good—despite limited resources—if the team focused its attention on the most common problems, such as helping kids see the board in class. “For the bulk of the patients who need glasses, we can get it all done right here as one-stop shopping,” Cogen said. “And that is really the important thing. We get the patients in, in their community, they don’t have to travel very far.”