Vision Source Specialists strive to help those not only in our local community but our global community in gaining the gift of vision. Recently, Dr. Dawn Wattenhoffer returned from volunteering at the Cabecar Indigenous Reserve in Costa Rica with her husband, two children, and group from Rimrock E. Free Church. The Cabecar Indigenous Reserve in Costa Rica is one of the most impoverished areas in Costa Rica, where only 50% of the population even speaks Spanish (most still speak their native dialect). There were many different clinics provided to the locals including optometry, dental, soccer, vet, and more. Not only did Dr. Wattenhoffer provide her time to helping many locals get the gift of vision, but our team at Vision Source Specialists donated equipment for the trip, neutralized hundreds of pairs of glasses donated from the South Dakota Lion’s Club, and some employees even donated medical scrubs for the volunteers to wear.
The optometry clinic that Dr. Wattenhoffer worked in served many of the Cabecar people. The clinic was in a region called Grano de Oro and it took over one hour of driving on winding, gravel mountain roads to reach the area. Some of the patients who came from the Cabecar Indian Reserve needed two translators: one to translate Cabecar to Spanish and another to translate Spanish to English. Luckily, Dr. Wattenhoffer can speak a little Spanish so she was able to speak to her patients during the eye exams.
The optometry clinic was very busy, where they saw over 150 patients and gave out over 90 pairs of glasses. One of the major challenges that occurred was simply in the prescriptions that people had, which overall were different than what is usually seen in the US. The rural Costa Rican population had statistically more small hyperopic prescriptions, meaning they had trouble with reading. The clinic was able to meet the needs of these prescriptions by giving over 70 pairs of readers. Typically, in the US myopia is diagnosed more compared to what the clinic saw in patients. But for the patients who had myopia, they were often given a couple pairs of glasses and in some cases even sunglasses. The clinic also provided free adjustments on glasses and fixed many pairs of glasses for patients.
In addition to correcting vision problems, Dr. Wattenhoffer was also able to help many patients who needed medical attention for their eyes. Using a hand-held slit lamp, donated by Dr. Wilkinson, she was able to remove a metal foreign body from an eye, diagnose and treat blepharitis, allergic conjunctivitis, dry eye, pingeculae, pterygia, and recurrent corneal erosion. Due to the constant UV exposure that many of the patients endure from living and working outside year-round, many patients had exposure damages to the surfaces of their eyes. Dr. Wattenhoffer used her eye health knowledge to educate her patients on how to treat and minimize the growth of pterygia, ultimately preventing blindness in the future. Pterygia can be surgically removed, but for many of the rural areas the Cabecar people live in it can be hard to see eye surgeons.
Overall, the experience was one where the gift of vision was given to many and proper eye health care was taught to patients, so they could not only maintain their vision but teach others in their community. During this mission trip the dental clinic also provided much needed help including extractions of teeth and provided education about dental preventative care. Also, veterinarians visited the reservation to help treat many sick animals including those infested with worms. The mission trip also helped host a soccer tournament and included a VBS-like program for the local grade school. Giving the gift of vision and giving people the tools to make the best choices for their eye health are crucial goals that Vision Source Specialists strives to do for all of our patients.