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A better vision for all

By Reid Creager

Correspondent

Some troubling numbers on a page will spring to life in dramatic fashion for Casey McCormick this summer. She’s looking forward to it.

The 23-year-old from the Foxcroft area, who’s pursuing her master’s in public health at UNC Chapel Hill, has been selected to spend two months in Vietnam as an intern with a Helen Keller International program called ChildSight that provides free eye exams and glasses to students. She left June 2 and will return in early August.

McCormick liked researching HKI - “in the future, this is the kind of organization I want to have a career with,” she said - but doesn’t like the statistics related to her mission.

According to HKI, the Western Asia-Pacific Region, which includes Vietnam, is reported to have the most cases of uncorrected refractive error (more commonly known as near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism) in the world: about 62 million. An estimated 20 percent of Vietnamese children have some type of refractive error; most are undiagnosed and untreated.

McCormick will team with classmate Michael Wilson of Richmond, Va., on a project that’s close to her heart and career goals. Given her field of study, “I wanted to do something international this summer. I have a real passion for infectious disease prevention, so I was really looking for something more up that alley.”

HKI recently piloted its program by training 300 local teachers in rural Kon Tum province and health workers from 100 primary and secondary schools to deliver vision services to more than 10,000 Vietnamese students across the province. McCormick said she and her partner are to help advance the program in three stages.

“The first part of our project is to take the data that they’ve already collected through past intervention in the program, analyzing it and putting it into a report and presenting it to HKI funders to explain and evaluate what happened in that process and how that intervention works.

“Once we analyze that data, we’re going to take the ChildSight program plan and adapt it to a school district within Hanoi, which is a much more urban setting than where the first wave took place. Then we’re going to try to get the implementation part of that rolling before we leave in August.”

The third part entails an aspect of eyesight that’s often overlooked: nutrition. “We’re going to pair the ChildSight program with a nutrition program for the parents of the children we give the eye exams to,” said McCormick, who earned UNC undergraduate degrees in psychology and exercise science after attending Charlotte Catholic. “They don’t have proper nutrition, and their eyesight can go very quickly.”

McCormick and her partner will also work to develop promotional and educational materials targeting parents of ChildSight participants to increase awareness about the program, vision screening and eye health.

It won’t be a cheap adventure. McCormick said the airfare cost about $2,000, “and then I’m assuming I’ll spend maybe $300-$500 on food and weekend excursions and other things.”

Because she’s required to do a practicum - a hands-on study program - as part of her master’s, the financial hit was basically built in. She said some UNC organizations helped a little with the cost.

“I’m blessed enough to have the means to pay for this trip,” she said, with the confidence that this special life and career experience will be more than worth it.

Reid Creager is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at reidcreager@yahoo.com.
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