News

4.15.2011

Bascom Palmer’s Vision Van Begins Mission in Japan

Embarking on its first international rescue mission, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s Vision Van arrived in the Japanese city of Sendai on April 14, just a day after Sendai’s airport reopened following the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The Japan Eye Rescue Mission, launched in conjunction with Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, will enable Japanese ophthalmologists and trained volunteers to offer emergency vision screenings; treat eye injuries, infections and inflammations from contaminated water and other hazards; and replace eyeglasses lost during the disaster.

Stocked with over one thousand ready-made eyeglasses with a wide range of prescriptions donated by Eye Care Centers of America, the van was accompanied on its two-day journey from Miami by Richard Lee, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology, who reported his flight from Anchorage was the first international flight to arrive at the airport in Sendai, the largest city near the epicenter of the 9.0 magnitude quake.

No stranger to natural disaster, Dr. Lee is sharing his extensive knowledge and experience gained while contributing to relief efforts in Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake there. Like the Haitian people, Lee said the Japanese are facing the future with amazing dignity and grace. He was particularly moved by a young pediatric ophthalmologist who rode two hours on a bus from Iwate, one of the most damaged areas, to join the rescue mission.

“Her father was an ophthalmologist and died right after the tsunami,’’ Lee wrote in a dispatch. “Although she was personally devastated, it was really inspiring to see how she wanted very much to do this to help her people even during her personal grief.’’

Dr. Kazuo Tsubota, chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at Keio University, expressed his appreciation for Bascom Palmer’s help in healing Japan.

“I went with my team to northeastern Japan last week to assess the damage and find ways to help the survivors with their ocular needs,’’ Tsubota said. “I knew, just as you have seen on the news, that many towns had been destroyed. But when I was there I was so shocked that it brought me to tears.’’

Knowing the success the Vision Van had in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Eduardo Alfonso, M.D., chairman of Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, said he believes it will prove to be an invaluable resource for Dr. Tsubota’s team.

“I hope that by making every effort to promptly support Dr. Tsubota and the people of Japan in this time of crisis, we help to improve the medical conditions in Japan and help facilitate a rapid recovery,” Alfonso said.

Expected to remain in Japan for three months, the Vision Van is uniquely suited for use in environments where health care and public works infrastructure is essentially nonexistent. The fully equipped, 40-foot bus contains a comprehensive examination room, three screening stations, a waiting room and state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment. Lee said Keio University, Tohoku University School of Medicine, and Iwate University will alternate staff to operate the vans in their respective areas.

“The Japanese ophthalmologists are full of energy, running with many ideas for a possible vision van of their own, future projects, ideas on outreach for clinical care, etc.,’’ Lee wrote. “I think this will be a very positive experience for ophthalmology in Japan.’’

Donated to Bascom Palmer by the Josephine Leiser Foundation, the Vision Van began service in 2004, bringing early detection of eye diseases, such as amblyopia, glaucoma and macular degeneration, to underserved areas from the Florida Keys through Martin County. A longtime Bascom Palmer patient, the late Josephine Leiser dreamed of providing free eye care to the medically underserved.

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