Local optometrist helps provide gift of sight

Dr. Brian Allen recently attended a Lions Club mission trip to a village in Mexico, where he along with two other doctors performed eye exams. (Courtesy Photo/Cedar-Maple City Lions Club)

With spring in the air, many families throughout the community are returning from spring break adventures.

However, one Manistee resident recently returned from a trip to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, where he did more than simply enjoy the warmer weather.

Dr. Brian Allen, along with local Manistee volunteer David Webb and 11 other Michigan Lion’s Club volunteers, joined with a local Lion’s Club in Merida to perform eye exams and dispense donated glasses to impoverished villagers.

Patients of all ages from the village of Merida attended the clinic, and hundreds of eyeglasses were dispensed to the locals. (Courtesy Photo/Cedar-Maple City Lions Club)

“I was called by the leader of the trip, Harold Johnson from Big Rapids,” said Allen. “He had been on previous trips as a Lions Club volunteer, and was initiating his first group trip and needed doctors.”

Allen said this was the second mission trip for eye exams that he has participated in.

“I had gone to Costa Rica as an intern way back in 1986 and had a good experience there, the people were great and very appreciative of our services,” he said. “This was my first trip to Latin America and my first time trying to speak Spanish.”

David Webb volunteered as a translator, helping to eliminate the language barrier between the doctors and their patients.

“It was interesting working with the people, especially seeing the huge turnout,” said Webb. “There were people lined up across several blocks just waiting to get in.”

Hundreds of donated glasses from Michigan were dispensed to the locals, who showed their gratitude with hugs and tears of joy.

Patients with cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other eye diseases were sent out to local volunteer clinics.

“There were three doctors, and for the three days of clinic we saw nearly 1,000 patients, or a little over 100 people a day for each of us,” he said. “We had to do the exams in Spanish which — despite my studies — was still a bit difficult, but we had student interpreters to help us.”

Allen said the exams did come with challenges, due to the portable clinic setting.

“We had to use portable instruments, so compared to our microscopes and digital instruments at our home office here in Manistee, it did take getting used to,” he said. “Some of the instruments I hadn’t used for 20 years.”

The volunteers got to enjoy some unique sightseeing in addition to the hard work they put in.

After the completion of the clinics, the local club put on a dinner for the volunteers with a show of traditional folk dances and joined with the group on a tour of Mayan pyramids and the colonial village of Izamal.

“We were there for six days and one morning,” said Allen. “The first day I was able to go with a local guide to the mangrove forests of Celestun and the International Biosphere Preserve there to do one of my favorite hobbies, birding.

“I saw loads of good birds including several that I hadn’t seen before, like the Mexican Sheartail Hummingbird, Yucatan Wren and Gray-necked Wood Rail, in addition to the birds I had seen before that most people see there, like American Flamingos (and) Wood Storks.”

Allen said on his final day of exploring, he went south to Uxmal to visit the Mayan pyramids.

“We spent a lot of time in the forest as well as some time visiting the national parks of the Mayan Ruins,” he said. “I would wholeheartedly recommend it.”

The trip helped to promote the Lions Club’s mission to assist and advocate for the blind and visually impaired. Volunteers across the nation have participated in mission trips to provide assistance globally.

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