This fall, Dr. Oker returned from her two week mission trip to Rwanda. She was there volunteering with OneSight, a nonprofit committed to eradicating the global vision care crisis. “I actually started working with [OneSight] many years ago,” Dr. Oker says. When she worked as an ophthalmic technician at LensCrafters she would participate in volunteer events. “We would take a vision van to local communities and give eye exams to those that would not otherwise be able to have access to eye care,” says Dr. Oker. “Working with the organization prior to school allowed me to see another side of the profession and is actually one of the reasons why I decided to pursue optometry.” When We See Better, We Live Better
During school, Dr. Oker continued volunteering with student organizations such as VOSH International, a nonprofit that facilitates the provision and sustainability of vision care in areas lacking access to eye care. But, after beginning her own career, Dr. Oker reconnected with OneSight. “I loved the sustainable vision care concept of OneSight,” says Dr. Oker. “To be a part of something that is not only changing the way patients see, but also impacting the community by adding new employment opportunities and developing new leaders in the community is amazing.” When you apply to OneSight’s volunteer trips, you have no idea where they will send you. Dr. Oker applied for an international trip, and on clinic announcement day, found out that she would be going to Rwanda. Dr. Oker recalls the feeling as though God chose that location during that time frame for a specific reason. Now, back in the states, Dr. Oker has no doubt in her mind that was the case. Week One: Bringing Vision to Rwanda
Dr. Oker was in Rwanda for two weeks.
“During the first week, we did a lot of training with the local staff from the vision centers,” Dr. Oker recounts. “There were multiple stations set up that focused on different areas of the clinic set up. “For example, there was a station on patient registration, one on pretesting for the doctor and another on sales and dispensing of the glasses. Each clinic rotated through each station until we would break for lunch together. Then we would return back for more training in the afternoon.”
OneSight’s core mission is to establish permanent vision care access. Volunteer optometrists like Dr. Oker help local doctors setup sustainable vision care. They then stay and manage the centers after the volunteer doctors leave.
Without this training, their care was primarily focused on ocular health related conditions.
“I absolutely love following up with the Ophthalmic Clinical Officer (OCO) that I trained,” Dr. Oker says. “One of my favorite stories is about a long term patient of the clinic that happened to come in for her annual exam while I was there at the clinic. The OCO in training was unable to do get a refraction previously due to the high amount of astigmatism in her prescription. After our training he was able to do her refraction without even thinking about it. Without the training there are many patients that would not be able to get their vision corrected”
Step Two: Permanent Vision Care Access
During the second week, Dr. Oker was sent to one of three different clinics OneSight was opening in the more remote villages of Rwanda. “We continued our training, but in an actual clinic setting,” Dr. Oker explains. “We got to interact more with the patients and see what a typical day would be like in the new clinic.” Some of Dr. Oker’s favorite memories came from the patients that she had the chance to interact with during the second week. Like Shallon. When Shallon was born 8 months ago, she was diagnosed with club foot. Club foot is a congenital condition requiring casts, braces, and possible surgery on both feet. After Shallon’s father learned of diagnosis, he left Shallon and her mother for another woman. Shallon’s mother was left to care for her newborn with little to no resources.
“When Shallon visited us at the vision center in Rwinkwavu, she was diagnosed with a congenital cataract,” says Dr. Oker.
This condition means she will need surgery and significant aftercare to ensure her eye develops properly. Currently, the nearest hospital that does this procedure is many miles away. Through OneSight, the clinic Dr. Oker helped launch, and the hospital in which it's located, Shallon's mother will have the resources she needs to care for her daughter.
“Our hope is that she will be able to have the surgery and get the aftercare she needs at the vision clinic near her home to ensure her vision is not affected,” Dr. Oker says. “I have hope that she will be a long term patient of the clinic. With the help of the doctors and surgeons she will lead a happy life seeing the world clearly and creating memories with her mother, whom has loved and cared for her through everything. Even if Shallon cannot walk our hope is that she will always be able to see.”
Until the World Can See
With OneSight, Dr. Oker was able to provide training and experiences for those in the clinic to successfully maintain their business and provide patient care. “One Sight is literally changing lives every single day,” Dr. Oker says. “And that’s not only in relation the patients we serve through eye care. Participating on this mission was truly life changing and something I will always cherish and hold close to my heart.” Returning to her own practice in Eden Prairie was difficult for her at first. OneSight calls this “mission withdraw.” “I felt the need and the desire to continue to serve in any capacity I was capable of.” So how did Dr. Oker combat this feeling? She plans to volunteer again.
Dr. Oker plans to apply every year to participate in OneSight’s mission projects. In fact, she was selected to return to Rwanda in June of 2018. “I cannot wait to return to Rwanda again in June and for the new memories that I will be blessed to be able to create.” To Support OneSight and Their Mission:
OneSight is leading the way with their sustainable vision projects. During these, the visiting team has the primary goal of assisting and training locals to establish clinical procedures and practices. This empowers the country team to provide eye care long after the completion of the trip. “I fell in love with this concept,” Dr. Oker says. “I love knowing that the team I worked and trained with is giving eye exams to those in need. Right now. As we speak.” Join Dr. Oker, and bring vision care access to those in need!