By Dr. Kristen Reed, OneSight Volunteer
After graduating from Southern College of Optometry in 2013, I began working at my first practice as a lease-holding optometrist inside of a Target Optical in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was there in which I first learned about OneSight clinics and instantly fell in love with what OneSight does for communities, both locally and around the world.
In December 2014, I received the exciting news that I would be going on my first OneSight global clinic to Xi’an, China for two weeks. I was elated and nervous all at the same time. A million things were racing through my head: I had never been out of the country without my family. My son was about 18 months old. I wasn’t sure I even really liked Chinese food. I felt worried about being away from my family and my practice for two weeks. Despite all these thoughts, my gut told me to go.
Fast-forward to the clinic itself – a period in which my life was forever changed. I had already known that I believed in the OneSight program, but spending two weeks on a team with people from all over the world who are just as passionate about eyecare as I am is something that I’ll never forget. The team instantly became my family. I’m still in touch with a fair number of them and have since been on subsequent clinics with some. They’re good people, too. On our clinic to Spokane, Washington, our team really bonded with our bus driver, Pete. While on the clinic, his daughter went into labor prematurely and he had to take a day away from the clinic to care for his family. There was a concern about his finances and work situation. The team pooled money together to give him a huge tip and a great deal on some prescription ski goggles he’d been wanting but couldn’t afford. He still sends updates on the Photo Circle app of his granddaughter sometimes. He’s one of my people. He’s OneSight family. Since then, I’ve joined OneSight at a clinic in Spokane, Washington, and was fortunate enough to be the lead optometrist for the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Omaha OneSight clinics as well as the Makassar, Indonesia clinic last fall.
Thinking back to my first clinic, I was amazed at the quality of glasses fabricated and dispensed on OneSight clinics and I still am. I originally assumed they would be using donated frames and lenses, requiring us to give people glasses that were as close to their prescription as we could get them. When I learned that each person got a brand-new frame and lenses cut to their prescription, I’ll admit I was skeptical. I was fully expecting some terrible quality, ugly frames being given out.
Then, in China, I was able to experience it firsthand and provide eyecare and glasses to people in need. These frames were not only good quality, but legitimately cute. It was amazing to see the kids have clear vision, many of them for the first time. Not only was our team able to provide better vision to these kids, the mayor of the area heard about the good we were doing and visited the clinic to check it out. As it turned out, he needed glasses himself and was so pleased with his vision, that he put out a PSA stating that glasses aren’t a sign of weakness, but rather an extremely useful tool. This was a huge deal, because at the time people in the area were being taught that glasses were a sign of weakness and could actually make your eyes worse. So, not only were we impacting the actual vision of these people, we were able to provide better education and understanding of the visual system and why glasses are important. An added bonus: the glasses were even cute!
OneSight not only provides clear vision to people in need, they also provide a comprehensive eye exam. Many of the people we see have never had a full exam before. As an optometrist, I want people to see clearly, but I also want them to be healthy. Providing a comprehensive, dilated eye exam allows us to catch common whole-body issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol issues, as well as more rare things like brain tumors, and get them connected with appropriate treatment options right away. I was surprised at the number of undiagnosed and/or untreated strabismus (eye turn), amblyopia (lazy eye), glaucoma cases, untreated retinal problems, and cataract issues I’ve seen in clinics. It is heart-warming knowing that we are able to prescribe medications and get them set up with someone who can continue caring for them even after the clinic is over.
Despite leaving Target Optical, I have continued to apply for and participate in OneSight clinics. I also fill in one day a week at a local LensCrafters to provide OneSight exams. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to serve the people in my community who are referred for exams and glasses.
In fact, giving back is such a priority for me that when I was selected to lead the 2018 Ohama OneSight clinic and soon after found out that my second child was expected to be due at the same time, I decided to make it work. My son was born on September 20, 2018 and we set up the clinic October 5, 2018. After working with OneSight’s program manager and my husband to develop a plan, I wound up baby-wearing my newborn son and having my husband act as an extra set of hands throughout much of the clinic. Our older son, Brayden, even helped on the final clinic day. While each clinic I’ve participated in have been amazing and full of wonderful memories, the Omaha 2018 clinic will always hold a special place in my heart as my whole family was able to be involved and really learn why I’m so passionate about OneSight.
If it isn’t evident already, I’ll put it more bluntly. While I enjoy giving back to the community and world, I often feel that I get just as much from OneSight as I give. When I return from a clinic, I feel refreshed, although I’m often physically exhausted from long days and travel. The clinics, both global and regional, also serve as a reminder of how blessed I am back home, and every clinic adds to my network of extended OneSight family. OneSight is a part of me and I can’t imagine doing optometry without this organization.
Want to hear more from our volunteer doctors? Read about Dr. Umangi Popat’s experience.