Jeff Turner calls it the happy station. There are no needles, no scalpels and no painful recoveries. The best part, though, is the almost instantaneous smiles that come with success.
Turner is in charge of one of the busiest corners in an extremely busy Mariveles District Hospital in the Philippines. The new facility officially opened Monday, when a team of 100 Minnesota volunteers, mostly doctors and nurses, flung the doors open to a very needy and appreciative public.
The patients who visited Turner and his team of uplifting assistants were sent away at the rate of about one per minute, sporting new eyeglasses and getting a clear view of the world perhaps for the first time in years. About 450 Filipinos went home with new glasses Monday.
The patients aren’t fussy. You’ll see men go home with women’s frames and vice versa. “They just want to be able to see,” Turner said.
He has been keeping track of some of their heartwarming comments when people try on their glasses for the first time. “One of the women put on her glasses and she’s like, ‘Oh, I can finally go back to work! I worked as a manager and I just couldn’t see any more.’
“Another said, ‘I can finally read my Bible.’ ”
And the list goes on.
As you watch Turner work, you’d think he had years of experience as an optometrist. You’d be wrong.
The 39-year-old from Farmington, Minn., is a vice president of sales for Fagron Inc., a pharmaceutical wholesaler. He got into the eyeglass business simply because he wanted to be a useful mission worker.
It happened about 10 years ago after a trip to Haiti. He learned of the Kendall Optometry Ministry, which has a slogan of: “Serving the Lord by providing better vision to people of underdeveloped countries.” The organization offered a field optometry kit, which runs on batteries, a key in many mission areas.
Turner dove in, getting the necessary training and serving the poor of the world. He returned to Haiti in 2007, 2008 and 2009 before a job change required him to take a break. This is his first trip with the Philippine Minnesotan Medical Association.
He brought 3,000 pairs of glasses ― 2,000 of which were donated by Champlin (Minn.) High School ― and 1,000 “readers.” Another 10,000 pair of regular glasses were shipped here from other U.S. sources.
The process of finding appropriate prescriptions is more than trial-and-error. Turner spends the day looking into each patient’s eyes through a hand-held auto-refractor unit. It shoots a laser through the pupil and measures the distance between the cornea and the retina. From that he can get a good sense of what is needed.
The glasses are all barcoded by prescription and inventoried accordingly. The assistants can take a printout that Turner gives the patient and immediately find the needed prescription. Sometimes, it takes a couple of tries to get the best match.
The result Monday was 450 patients, 450-plus smiles.
Monday’s grand opening of Mariveles District Hospital was greeted with high hopes and bloated expectations. When reality hit, both were blown away.
The goal to reach the 1,000-patient daily capacity became laughable when more than 1,400 grateful Filipinos went through the doors.
“It was the best first day we’ve ever had,” said Dr. Bernard Quebral, who is coordinating his eighth medical mission to the Philippines.
Highlights included 680 outpatients treated, 270 dental patients, 450 for eye care, 20 major surgeries and 42 minor procedures. They also filled more than 800 prescriptions for outpatients.
“In some places, that’s a week’s work,” Quebral said.
The key, he said, was the work done by the advance team, which arrived in Mariveles the week before the doctors, nurses and others. “The advance team always sets the tone,” he said.
Every step ― from crowd control to registration to treatment to pharmacy to checkout ―was fluid and efficient. Glitches and complications were handled quickly and seamlessly.
“I couldn’t see it going any better,” Quebral said.