Providing the Gift of Sight

Above: Dr. Kim Bugera works on a patient in the Philippines. She and her husband, Peter Laansoo, were in Central Manila from Nov. 12 to 23. – Submitted Photo

by Lucie Roy

A Morinville optometrist and her husband just returned from their second trip to the Philippines to help with eye care. Dr. Kim Bugera and her husband, Peter Laansoo were in Central Manila from Nov. 12 to 23 and also visited the country in April.

The Eye Train, located at the Philippines National Railway Terminal at Tutulan Station, was made possible by Canadian Vision Care and a group of Alberta doctors of optometry who literally dragged the train up the tracks and refurbished it into an eye clinic.

“On this particular trip, that is different from the last one, we went and saw inner city kids,” Bugera said. “Many of these kids are either special needs or orphans or abandoned. They are taken and looked after by foundations that do charity.”

The group set up a makeshift clinic, and because a lot of the children could not communicate with written words, they drew pictures to do the exam. They saw about 350 patients, about 75 patients per day. The amount was lower than the previous trip, but Bugera said the goal was to teach the interns. The best way to do that was to have patients that are challenging for them to see.

Bugera was the Team Leader and had five doctors with her to examine mostly children but some adults as well.

“What was unique about this trip was we had students optometrists from the Manila University, and we were teaching them,” she said. “They are selected to come to the Eye Train to work with the Canadian doctors and one hundred per cent of interns that train with us pass their exams and end up doing a difference in the country.”

It is a legacy the Canadian optometrists leave behind so the doctors can assist their own people. The trip was not without its challenges.

Bugera said the set up is make-shift, and they have no equipment. “All the equipment and glasses are being donated by Canadian optometrist,” she said. “We ship tonnes of glasses out in crates.”

The group had six optometrists from Canada, four from Edmonton and two from Saskatchewan. On the Eye Train was a sign that read “Albertans making a difference.”

The glasses supplied are all new. On this particular trip, none of the glasses came from the Lions Foundation except for the sunglasses.

Bugera said sunglasses were probably one of the best things people can donate.

“This is because a lot of people in these countries have massive cataracts, an eye disease from exposure to the sun because they do not wear protection and cannot afford sunglasses,” she said, adding the sunglasses can help prevent their cataracts from advancing until surgery can be done.

Bugera and her husband they have made more than 15 trips around the world and hoped to go to Messi Plains in Africa in June of 2016. Bugera is excited about the opportunity because none of these people have ever had their eyes checked. “The whole village has never seen any kind of eye care,” she said.

Bugera said the trips are under the umbrella of Canadian Vision Care but they pay their full way from flights to accommodations.

“You always get back so much more than you give,” she said. “It is unbelievable the feeling you get when you do these trips and the giving back. It doesn’t matter what you spend on it; you get that back and so much more. So we pay our own way, we do time in our clinics. We leave our families; we bring all the equipment with us so that is always an adventure too. Lots of stories to tell. Once I was at the Peruvian customs for almost eight hours being finger printed and all kinds of things and finally we got out, but you never know.”

Bugera and Laansoo’s first trip was about two years after they were married. The couple went to Dominica in the Caribbean.

“We were the twenty-year-olds with the forty-year-old doctor taking us under his wing, and now we are those people,” she said. “On this trip I had twenty-five-year-olds with me, and I was the leader. It seems funny that many years and I try to get them interested in it so generations after us will go and give back.”

Capital Vision Care has a charity clinic at the Boyle McCauley in downtown Edmonton. Bugera said all of their doctors volunteered there one month out of the year.

“Can’t just leave and do stuff in other places and not your own house,” Bugera said of the work closer to home.


Dr. Bugera and a colleague.

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