Vision Quest

Virginia Beach ophthalmologist Dr. G. Peyton Neatrour and family spent two weeks in the Philippines this summer, volunteering with the Physicians for Peace Seeing Clearly program. An inspirational family vacation.

It was not your average family vacation for the Neatrour family of Virginia Beach. They did stay on a tropical island and, yes, there were white sandy beaches overlooking a turquoise ocean. But their two week trip to the Philippines in July was an exercise in service, not relaxation.

At least twice a year, Physicians for Peace, an organization that provides medical care for people in developing nations, sends groups of volunteers abroad with its Seeing Clearly program. Created in 2006, Seeing Clearly provides comprehensive eye exams and performs much needed eye surgeries in countries where—because of other health care issues—eye care is low priority.

Dr. G. Peyton Neatrour, 53, became involved with Seeing Clearly last year. Neatrour is an ophthalmologist and the founder of the Beach Eye Care Neatrour Eye Institute in Virginia Beach. He has performed over 25,000 vision correction procedures and so brought plenty of experience to the Seeing Clearly mission.

When the chance arose to travel to the Philippines, where half a million people suffer from blindness, Neatrour and his wife, Leslie, 53 and a registered pharmacist, decided that it was the perfect opportunity to involve their three children in an experience that would instill values of service and charity. “The goal was to expand the project,” explains Neatrour from his Virginia Beach office. “We decided it was a great family program to go on.” It is rare for an entire family to become so involved with a project like this. Physicians for Peace CEO Ron Sconyers, 63, explains that the Neatrours were tremendously self-motivated: “[They] had this idea to go and have been really engaged in fundraising.”

The volunteers traveled to Mindanao, one of the Philippines’ 700 islands, where the family worked in the city of Tandag’s only hospital, Adela Serra Ty Memorial Medical Center. While Neatrour performed eye exams and surgeries, Leslie and two of their children, Greg, 16, and Katlyn, 17, helped collect important patient data, while their daughter, Kristin, 23, a medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, worked to track correlations between diabetes and vision loss.

Patients with diabetes provide unique challenges for eye care professionals. Diabetes can cause reduced side vision, color vision impairment and a host of other ailments which can lead to blindness. Due to their fluctuating sugar levels, diabetics can experience changes in nearsightedness or farsightedness caused by the morphing of their human crystalline lens, a transparent, biconvex structure in the eye. This can make it difficult to prescribe glasses.

One patient, a Tandag local named Grace, didn’t know she was diabetic until her husband insisted she undergo the free diabetes screening at the clinic. Grace had a blood sugar level of 600, nearly life threatening. After two days in the hospital where she was treated with insulin, Grace’s blood sugar decreased dramatically to 129. “[That] was an example of a life changing event,” says Dr. Neatrour of Grace’s recovery.

Life changing for those patients, and for the Neatrours too. “The experience left a remarkable impression on all of us,” says Leslie Neatrour of the 113 cataract surgeries, 20 pterygium surgeries (growth of scar tissue on cornea), 8 eye muscle surgeries, 347 eye exams and refractions, and 250 diabetes patients that the program helped. Physicians for Peace sends missions to the Philippines twice a year. So will the family be returning in the future? To Neatrour the answer is crystal clear. “Yes, certainly,” he says.

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