Dr. K’s parents’ teachings have left a lasting impression on her. At a young age, she realized that if allowed to change lives, it is substantial to do it. Dr. K reminisces about her first clinic trip to Ecuador with VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity), which was a life-changing and humbling experience after finishing her residency at the SUNY College of Optometry in 2011. After witnessing the living circumstances of Ecuadorians, such as living in sheds and barely having enough outfits to get through the week, let alone having access to glasses and clear vision, Dr. K made the commitment to undertake clinic trips every year.
Throughout the years, she traveled to several countries through organizations such as VOSH and a Jamaican organization. Dr. K shared that they went into cataract surgeries and were able to offer vision care to about 1,000 people who desperately needed it in a span of four to five days.
Dr. K organized her very own clinic trip to Trinidad in 2015 with the assistance of colleagues and family. A total of twenty five people, including six doctors, flew out to Trinidad for an expedition of a lifetime. During the four-day clinic, they donated food and thousands of glasses to a local group in Trinidad. They reviewed their personal and family health history, performed a visual acuity test, did a pressure check and refraction, and allowed people to choose their glasses. With her savings and the help of her family, Dr. K was able to fund her own clinic trip. Following such a remarkable accomplishment, Dr. K proceeded to organize her own visits with the assistance of companies that donated sunglasses, reading glasses, prescription drops, or artificial tears.
However, Dr. K was forced to put her mission work on hold during the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She resumed her work in November of 2023 after a group in Mexico she had previously volunteered for, called Cucomi, got in touch with Dr. K and asked if she would be willing to provide glasses to a group of people living in Leona Vicario, which is about an hour and a half inland from Cancun. She immediately began the planning and was extremely excited to pick up where she left off. Dr. K was joined by Melissa Zuniga and Paloma Sierra, two staff members of TSO, as well as two other colleagues.
“We saw about 200 people. Everybody got a pair of sunglasses, we gave reading glasses to those in need, and we are in the process of getting prescription glasses made. We are either taking another trip back in January or shipping them at the beginning of the year. There’s a handful of people that we are referring to for either cataract or retinal surgery. I am in the process of finding a surgeon in Cancun to perform the medical procedures.” Dr. K explains.
“We worked with the Cucomi group to get the word out to those in need, figure out which village made the more sense for us to go, and get everything we would need. We took all of the equipment and glasses. I worked with companies who let me borrow their equipment, which was awesome because we were able to check eye pressure and do an auto refraction. Dr. Salone generously let us borrow her hand-held slit lamp, which allowed us to do full eye exams instead of just screenings. We were able to check for diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma and give the residents of Leona Vicario glasses.”
Without a doubt, Dr. K and her colleagues made a significant difference in their lives. She stated that the people they encountered were extremely grateful and sweet, with some even in tears. Dr. K recalls the joy on their faces as they presented them with the gift of vision and eye health.
“I am grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime to serve a community in need with the skills I have learned over the years working at TSO. It reassured my decision to pursue optometry!”
– Melissa Zuniga, Vision Therapist at TSO Georgetown
The TSO Network admires Dr. K’s commitment and applauds her journey, which not only represents our TSO Core Values but also demonstrates the life-changing power of kindness and using one’s abilities to assist others. Dr. K foresees herself continuing to make a difference in the world by bringing the gift of sight and happiness to those in need, even after retirement.