DuPage Rotary helps in Guatemala

  • Medical professionals from Wheaton's Spectrios Institute for Low Vision, assisted by volunteers from the Central DuPage Rotary, treated 535 patients in the mountain village of Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

    Medical professionals from Wheaton's Spectrios Institute for Low Vision, assisted by volunteers from the Central DuPage Rotary, treated 535 patients in the mountain village of Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Courtesy of Central DuPage Rotary A.M. Rotarian Bob Williams screens a resident of Chichicastenango using a Retinomax machine.

 
 
Published3/17/2009 12:02 AM

Local medical professionals from Wheaton's Spectrios Institute for Low Vision, assisted by volunteers from the Central DuPage Rotary, treated 535 patients in the mountain village of Chichicastenango, Guatemala during one week in early February.

Patients included a matador who lost an eye 30 years ago in a bull fight and a 12-year-old girl whose eye was punctured by a tree limb during a hurricane. Many of the Mayan villagers suffer from cataracts, astigmatism, glaucoma and an encyclopedia of other serious eye issues.

 

"One of the big problems is that many people there have fires in their homes for cooking and heating and they don't have proper ventilation, so they develop eye conditions from the smoke," Rotarian Tom Bookler said. "Many have never had glasses, so the team brought donated glasses and tried to match them up with the people who needed them."

Rotarian Bob Williams coordinated the sponsorship of Loyola University, Spectrios Low-Vision Institute, and the local morning Rotary to provide vision screening, eye surgery, prosthetic eyes, pharmaceuticals and more than 2,000 reading and sunglasses.

During the same week Rotarians from Indiana and Ohio provided hearing and dental services to another 400 patients.

Williams was joined by Wheaton residents and fellow Rotarians Stan Tawser and Chet Henry, who operated a screening tool called the Retinomax, directed patients to various treatment rooms and, with the help of local interpreters, interviewed the patients. The villagers do not speak English or Spanish, but rather their local Mayan dialects of Quiche' and K'chi.

The team was aided by a local pastor, the Rev. Bill Vasey, who grew up in Wheaton and attended Wheaton College. Vasey has translated the Bible into Quiche'.

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The volunteers worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Williams said that often the indigenous people wait at the hospital for days to see the doctors.

"It is a most gratifying scene," he said. "They come in in tears and they go out in tears for another reason. It is such a dramatic change in their lives. When they leave, they are transformed human beings. It's like poetry."

"What we're trying to do is to establish permanent eye care in this place," Henry said. "We would like to send interns there for continuity, usually to do cataract surgery. Eye people have been going there since 1999. We're trying to raise more money to keep it going."

The project is funded through local Rotary fundraisers and matching grants from International Rotary.

"Rotary works to get aid in countries with corruption, bureaucracy or lack of funds," Bookler said. "We bypass governments so we can get the services where they are needed."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Central DuPage Rotary has two major fundraisers each year. In the winter they sell poinsettias in partnership with Cantigny greenhouses. In the summer they raffle off a car. The $50 tickets for this year's raffle go on sale in mid-April with the final drawing at the downtown Wheaton Car Night on June 26.

The Central DuPage Rotary Club A.M. meets for breakfast every Wednesday at 7 a.m. at Cantigny Golf Club. Meetings are open to anyone interested. For information, call Bookler at (630) 386-0883.

For information about the upcoming car raffle, call Jim O'Grady at (630) 665-4992.

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