A young woman living in Jamaica has been legally blind for more than 10 years, but because she lives in an underprivileged area, ocular care hasn’t been readily available.
When a new clinic in the area was able to provide her with glasses, she burst into tears. It was the first time she had been able to see her mother’s face since she was a child.
These are the types of stories made possible through the Eye Health Institute, co-founded by Dr. Joseph Myers, an optometrist with University Health Services.
In 1996, Myers, alongside an eye-care team including Dr. Richard Cross, traveled to Jamaica to conduct vision screenings and provide glasses for those in underserved communities. With ancestry tracing back to Jamaica, both doctors desired to return to help. They were met by a large need for ocular care.
In 2001, Myers and Cross founded the Eye Health Institute, a nonprofit clinic that aims to provide comprehensive quality eye care and ocular health services to the people of Jamaica.
Myers received his optometric degree from the Ferris State College of Optometry, now the Michigan College of Optometry. He came to U-M more than 25 years ago and is still enjoying his position at UHS in addition to working with the clinic.
The patients that Myers sees at UHS are a large part of why he loves his job.
“It’s like being in a huge library, an encyclopedia, and every day I get to meet someone that’s doing something new,” he says of his patients, who come from a diverse student body representing many backgrounds and cultures. “I am taking interest obviously in their ocular health but in their lives as well.”
Myers remains active with EHI and continues to visit Jamaica with a large group, spending two to three weeks working at the clinic. In 2014, a six-week stint is being planned, and will include university interns.
He describes EHI as being one of the best-equipped clinics in Jamaica thanks to donations, with advanced technology such as electronic charting, surgeons on staff who can perform cataract surgery, and the ability to facilitate the best they can for the government to provide glaucoma medications.
“The people are just so wonderful,” Myers says. On a day when the clinic is conducting eye exams, doctors may see 40-50 patients, and when conducting cataract screenings, they may see as many as 70-100. In several cases, doctors have saved lives by finding tumors.
The EHI serves as a source of clinical experience and data for U-M’s Third Century Initiative, which allows for ‘deep field monitoring’ understanding of processes in a developing country. The group works to develop equipment to make the clinic more reliable and technologies that could one day be used globally.
“I’ve always had interest in helping the people of Jamaica, and now with the university associated with it, it enables me to even further that goal,” he says. “I feel like an ambassador for the university.”