Reservists bring free glasses, eye exams to Bush villages

700 pairs distributed in Norton Sound area

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A military program has brought new eyeglasses to more than 700 residents of Norton Sound villages in rural Alaska.

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The eyeglasses were delivered by Operation Arctic Care, which puts professional health care providers into remote parts of Alaska for a short time each year.

The glasses come in a single style and three sizes, for men, women and children, said Chief Petty Officer Sheldon O'Guinn of the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity in Yorktown, Va.

He was among 150 military service members who just spent two weeks treating villagers in the Bush.

Fashionwise, the glasses may be limited, but the price is right, said Donna Piscoya, an official of the Norton Sound Health Corporation, which helped coordinate the free care under Operation Arctic Care 2006.

Other services included oral surgery performed on patients at the Norton Sound Health Clinic, and a pediatrician who is active-duty military at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The program began April 1 and ended Friday. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and U.S. Public Health Service, as well as members of the Alaska Army National Guard, visited about a dozen northwest Alaska villages and the town of Nome.

All of them are licensed professionals in the medical field, said Army Lt. Col. Walt Stanish, medical plans and operations officer of the Alaskan Command, the state's umbrella military organization and overseer of Operation Arctic Care. They are dentists, optometrists, pediatricians - even veterinarians who treated village animals, said Piscoya.

Arctic Care 2006 fulfilled the reservists' requirement for two weeks of full-time training each year while giving them the chance to test their skill in delivering medical services in remote, difficult environments.

Ophthalmologists in the group had been prepared to make 1,000 pairs of glasses, the military said. They ended up making 704 pairs, according to Piscoya. The glasses were ground and framed in the Alaska National Guard Armory in Nome, which served as a command center.

Optometrists who had gone to Shishmaref, Teller, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin and other villages measured patients' vision and faxed the data to the armory, according to O'Guinn, the ophthalmologist from Virginia. There, eyeglass specialists were able to make a pair and send it back in little more than a day.

The Bush is not suffering an epidemic of uncorrected vision, Piscoya said. It's more a matter of cost. Also, many people are taking the opportunity to get a free second pair of glasses.

"If someone comes up here and says, 'I'll give you a free eye exam and a free second pair of glasses if you need it,' they're not going to turn that down," Piscoya said.



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