Keeping Sight of the Mission: Providing Relief to the Keys

3 min read  |  September 28, 2017  | 

Eye health experts deliver care – and extra glasses – to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

Volunteers from Bascom Palmer Eye Institute traveled to Key West in early September in the Vision Van, providing urgently needed eye care for residents, nurses and first-responders in the Lower and Middle Keys that were devastated by Hurricane Irma.

“We moved quickly to equip our Vision Van for the disaster relief effort,” says Dr. Eduardo C. Alfonso, director of Bascom Palmer and a professor and Kathleen & Stanley J. Glaser Chair in Ophthalmology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “The van served as a mobile hub for ophthalmic care for Hurricane Katrina victims in 2006 and the Japanese earthquake-tsunami of 2011. This time, we provided assistance much closer to home.”

The Keys relief mission was coordinated by several individuals: Mike Kelley, Bascom Palmer’s executive director of Strategic Operations, Dr. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon with the University of Miami Health System and executive dean of Global Health and Community Service, and Andrew MacCalla, director of International Programs and Emergency Response for Direct Relief, a global non-profit that provides medications and supplies to disaster victims.

“We started planning our response even before the hurricane hit the Keys on September 9,” says Kelley. “As we loaded the Vision Van, we found supplies donated by the Japanese Ophthalmological Society in gratitude for our past support.”

On September 12, Bascom Palmer ophthalmologist Dr. Richard K. Lee, Ph.D. visited the Upper Keys to check conditions and to deliver medications to the Islamorada Fire-Rescue station. The Vision Van left Miami on September 15, carrying eye medications, as well as eyeglasses and sunglasses donated by the Bascom Palmer Optical Shop for residents and first-responders.

Upon arriving at the Lower Keys Medical Center, the Vision Van team — Kelley, Lee, optometrist Dr. Leslie Small and ophthalmology resident Dr. Nandini Venkateswara — set up the mobile eye clinic and began seeing patients.

“Eye injuries are very common after a disaster, as are lost eyeglasses,” Lee says. “Restoring eye health is a priority, because when people can’t see, they are at high risk for other injuries, as their whole environment becomes unfamiliar.” And with closed pharmacies, people quickly run out of eye medications and need antibiotics for eye injuries.

During the weekend, the team treated more than 40 patients, primarily first-responders suffering from eye infections or broken and missing glasses. “Fortunately, the Lower Keys Medical Center emergency room doctors, led by Dr. Matthew Partzick, handled immediate injuries, consulting with us on eye injuries,” Lee says.

After leaving the Keys on September 17, the Vision Van reloaded supplies in Miami and immediately left for Naples. Under the direction of Dr. Stephen G. Schwartz, medical director for Bascom Palmer’s Naples location, the van will serve Southwest Florida patients until the Naples location reopens.

“It was inspiring to see medical professionals and responders from Hawaii, California, Pennsylvania and Nebraska fly into the Keys to help Monroe County begin recovering from Irma,” says Lee, who has led yearly community vision screenings Marathon Key, Big Pine Key, and Key West for years. “It felt like the whole country came together, and we were proud to be part of that team effort.”

Tags: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Eye Care, Hurricane Irma, the Keys, Vision Van

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