Doctors Provide Eye Exams In Hopes Of Better Education


Good eyesight is so important in today’s technology-oriented world.  

This week, a team of eye specialists and volunteers converged on the Rosebud Reservation to provide a free eye clinic for Native children and adults there. 

On the Rosebud Reservation, because of cutbacks in the Indian Health Service, good healthcare is not always easy to find, particularly good eye care.
With that in mind, a volunteer group came to Mission to provide eye tests and eye glasses for those with less than optimal eyesight. The glasses were free, and the volunteers gave eye examinations to anyone who came through the door and 
requested them. 

But the volunteers say they are particularly interested in treating eye conditions in the elderly and in children, because good eyesight is critical to the education and development of a child, and critical to his or her success later on in life.

“So to me, I’m very interested in taking care of the very young children and the elders. Now of course there’s everybody in between, but if we can prevent a life where you’re not reaching your potential, this is such a gift that we’re able to give,” Artists for World Peace Organizer, Wendy Black-Nasta said. 

Black-Nasta said she became committed to the treatment of visual disorders while working in Africa.  

Black-Nasta and her volunteers are connected with the Artists for World Peace Organization, which Black-Nasta is involved with, and which is sponsoring the eye examinations.  

One of the volunteers is a pre-med student from the University of Michigan. 

“I took the opportunity because I love to help other people,” University of Michigan Pre-Med Student Neil Patel said. 

Some of the parents told us they were grateful for the opportunity to have their kids eyes tested.

“It is very important for children’s eyes to be tested, I think,” parent Shawdae Lincoln said. 

And the kids seemed to enjoy it too. 

The doctors and other eyesight professionals, including program coordinator, Professor Raymond Dennis, said they saw some unique eye conditions while conducting eye examinations on the Rosebud Reservation.

“Virtually all of the patients that we see have visual errors that are myopia, or near-sightedness, and to some extent, large degrees of astigmatism as well,” Dennis said.

“We’re seeing a lot of astigmatism, which means that the shape of the eye, the cornea, the clear part of the eye is steeper than in other populations and that can certainly lead to poor vision for both near and far,” New York Ophthalmologist Dr. Debra Messina said. 

Messina, a doctor from New York, said she was prepared to see a large number of eye problems caused by diabetes, but that wasn’t the case.  

“And you also have a large diabetic population here on the reservation. The majority of them show minimal signs of diabetes effecting the retina,” Messina said. 

So, why do the doctors travel far from their home practices to work without pay?

One doctor conducting eye tests as part of the program is Dr. John Distler, from Louisville, Kentucky, who said participation in the program has been very rewarding for him. 

“The people that you do this for are always so appreciative.  It just makes you feel good. And the people that you work with, the colleagues that you meet are pretty much always wonderful people. It’s the first time I’ve worked with the group. I couldn’t be happier with the way things have run,” Distler said. 

Lionel Bordeaux, the president of Sinte Gleska University in Mission, where the eye test procedures took place, said the program was important for the visual health of the people on the reservation. 

“And then also, it give us an opportunity to introduce who we are as an institution of higher learning and what we’re trying to do,” Bordeaux said. 

Bordeaux said many Native residents of the reservation have trouble finding healthcare services, and he said he was glad Sinte Gleska University could play a role in filling that need. 

Sinte Gleska University in Mission has about 820 full-time and part-time students.  More than 1000 people received eye examinations during the eye test program this past week.  

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