By Jennifer George
It is springtime in Jamaica, where flowers are open wide to receive the Caribbean light and the soothing tropical breeze that dances through the island and across the sea, drawing flocks of tourists yearning for respite from colder climates. As students from abroad set aside their textbooks to lay on Jamaica’s powdery sands for a touch of the island’s curative sun, hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans find themselves in the grips of darkness from vision loss. Until recently, a young man from Kingston counted himself among them.
Kenroy Forrester is 23 years old. He suffers from keratoconus, a condition affecting the shape and density of the corneas, ultimately causing progressively blurred vision. The condition is often diagnosed during adolescence and can be treated with corrective contact lenses and occasionally surgery. Unfortunately, for most of his life, Kenroy did not have adequate access to eye care.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 billion people suffer from some form of visual impairment. Kenroy started losing his vision when he was only 11 years old. “Life was very difficult. I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do. When I was little I wanted to play soccer. But I couldn’t see clearly. It just got worse and worse. I couldn’t see books or what the teacher wrote in school.” said Kenroy. “It was awful. For twelve years, it went on like this. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was just going to go blind and that was it for me.”
Vision loss impeded his ability to function as a student, and as a human being who desired to engage with those around him. Feeling hopeless, he ultimately left school and tried his best to navigate life on his own. For Kenroy, like so many others, the blur and darkness of vision loss reduced the world to narrow spaces.
“I started isolating myself. I was bumping into things, bumping into people. I was missing steps. People were making fun of me. I closed myself off from the world for years.” Thanks to the help of Kenroy’s sponsor, Diane Heckert, hope would arrive in November of 2018. Having searched far and wide for help, Diane and her husband ultimately reached out to Dr. Richard Cross, an optometrist from Boulder, Colorado, and founder of The Eye Health Institute (EHI).
Dr. Cross and a small team of dedicated optometrists, surgeons, nurses, technicians and non-medical volunteers take two trips a year to help tackle eye care challenges in underserved areas of Jamaica. The EHI team works out of multiple sites, including a custom-designed clinic built into a shipping container, crafted as a collaboration with the University of Michigan. In a week, approximately two hundred patients will be examined, prescribed glasses, given medications for chronic eye conditions, and will have surgery for cataracts.
If you would like to support the work that EHI is doing then please consider making a donation through ColoradoGives.org. A portion of your donation will be matched by Colorado Gives.