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Portland Program Sees To Immigrants' Eye Health

Jasuda Monger from Nepal undergoes a preliminary eye exam while surrounded by family members and Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization staff.

Jasuda Monger from Nepal undergoes a preliminary eye exam while surrounded by family members and Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization staff.

Meredith Lawrence/OPB

One Monday a month, a room at one of Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization centers fills with new immigrants from across the world, all brought together by a need for eye care.

Many of them have never seen an eye doctor. Because of this need, Dr. Summy To of Myopic Optometry devotes one morning a month to offering free eye exams to the immigrants supported by the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization or IRCO.

“Having some time on my hands, I wanted to do something for the community,” Dr. To said.

Pei-ru Wang, IRCO’s community health manager, said that Dr. To’s donated services have been tremendously beneficial to the organization and have enabled it to offer its members eye care in a familiar location.

Although there are other places where immigrants might be able to find a free eye exam, Wang said, IRCO is an organization they already know and trust. Having Dr. To come to the immigrants in a familiar location has made it easier for them to receive care.

IRCO is a Portland-based nonprofit that offers immigrants such services as parenting classes, youth services, refugee settlement, healthcare and help getting out of poverty.

This month, Dr. To examined Yelena Belousov from Russia, who said she came to the United States because she was afraid for the safety of her children.

“Now I feel safe here,” she said, speaking through a translator. “Where I lived, there was a lot of criminal stuff going on there.”

Belousov works assembling small parts in a local factory where eyesight is crucial, but she had been experiencing irritation and dryness in her eyes.

For the patients who have the most critical needs for care, Dr. To offers free follow-up exams at her office. These are patients like high-school student Jasuda Monger, from Nepal, who has not been able to see clearly in seventeen years, but has never had glasses.

Monger recently immigrated to Portland with her older brother, parents and grandmother.

During her exam, Dr. To held up fingers and asked Monger how many fingers there were. When Monger tried to focus on the fingers it hurt so much that tears streamed from her eyes.

Monger’s brother, Ash, said that these trouble arose after a surgery she had as a small child. Upon hearing that, Dr. To stopped the exam and insisted on scheduling Monger for an appointment in her office.

Not all cases are as extreme as Monger’s. Many immigrants come to see Dr. To because they haven’t been in the country very long, have never had an eye exam or are experiencing minor issues with their eyes.

Yusuf Abdi, from Somalia, speaking through a translator, said he was experiencing some irritation and itchiness in his eyes and hoped Dr. To could help.

Dr. To said that, in addition to wanting to help as many people as she can,  she enjoys meeting patients and their families and learning how to communicate around the language barriers she often encounters. She plans to continue offering the exams to IRCO as long as she can.

“I personally love going there because the energy is so fresh and because I am meeting people from all over the world,” she said.

For more information: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.