This year’s I Care International mission trip was not only the organization’s first to Trujillo, Honduras, but it was the town’s first time ever receiving medical help.
“This town had never had any medical missions at all. We are the first ones. There were 70-, 80-, 90-year-old people who had never seen any kind of doctor,” said Phil Ortiz of Morris, co-founder of I Care and a retired optometrist.
About 34 volunteers from Illinois, California, and Indiana attended this year’s mission trip Feb. 10-20.
While in Honduras, they helped almost 2,000 people with vision and some other medical needs.
About 7,500 pairs of glasses were brought on the mission and they ran out common prescription glasses to give patients.
I Care is an organization dedicated to improving the vision and hearing of those in need. Ortiz, and the late Dr. Charles Cools of Princeton, founded the organization in 1989.
The organization has units in Illinois, California and Canada, traveling around the world at the individuals’ own expense, providing eye care to those who otherwise would never receive it. Mission trips have been to places such as Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Chile, as well as several trips within the United States.
The Morris area volunteers who attended this year are Ortiz, Dr. Angelo Marino, Dr. Jennifer Jacobs of Minooka, Kim Schaefer, Barb Ragan and Ralph Wolter.
The California unit brought all of the glasses for the mission and the Illinois unit brought all of the equipment, medication and supplies, said Ortiz.
The clinic in Trujillo was held in a functioning hospital located next to a prison, but the facilities were very small, said Marino, optometrist with Ortiz Eye & Hearing Associates in Morris. The glasses had to be stored and dispensed in an outside building.
This was Marino’s second mission trip, but it had been more than 10 years since his first one. On these trips, they often get people who are desperate for help, but don’t realize their conditions are not curable, said Ortiz. They saw many blind people who were hoping for a miracle.
Marino said it broke his heart when a 2-year-old girl was brought in who had an eye tumor. Her mother brought her in because she had a white spot on her eye. What she was actually seeing is that her daughter’s pupil was white instead of black.
She had retinoblastoma, a malignant tumor of the retina that she was likely born with.
“The prognosis is very poor,” said Marino.
“The problem is there are no doctors there,” said Ortiz.
Through their connections, they were able to get the little girl connected with a doctor in another town who was going to try to help.
Another patient — one whom Marino was able to help — was an 11-year-old boy that was the son of one of the guards at the clinic.
“On the last day of the clinic, she asked if it was OK to bring her son in for an exam . . . he couldn’t see anything on the chart,” Marino said.
The clinic had numerous strong prescriptions, but not his exact one. But they had one close enough to help him. When the boy put them on and looked at his mother, Marino said you could see that he could now clearly see his mother’s face.
“She felt bad. She was crying, ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know.’ I saw his mother the next day and she said he slept with his glasses on. He didn’t want to take them off,” he said.
On this trip, I Care also provided some medical tests and check ups. They had a lot of high blood pressure and diabetic patients, said Ortiz.
I Care partnered with the town’s local Rotary Club for the clinic, and is looking into returning to the town next year for a cataract mission trip. The town is very poor, with more than 70 percent of people being unemployed, said Marino.
The clinic had numerous patients who traveled for four to six hours to attend the clinic.
In addition to the care, the organization was able to bring down an automated wheelchair and a manual wheelchair for some local people in need. One man in his 50s was paralyzed and spent his days either in a bed or a chair.
They gifted him with the automated wheelchair so he could get around in it by using a hand control he could operate with the little movement he has left in his left hand.
The wheelchair was purchased through Remco Medical in Joliet, which provided the chair worth about $2,000 for $500, said Ortiz. It was purchased by a friend of I Care who is originally from Honduras.
In preparation for future trips, I Care continues to collect used glasses and hearing aids. Both kinds of items can be donated in the Morris Lions Club boxes located around town and at the Ortiz Eye & Hearing Associates office at 880 Bedford Road, Morris.