by Janene Sims, OD, PhD, FAAO

Tuesday, April 27th, marked the 10-year anniversary of a historic deadly tornado outbreak in the South. This series of storms lasted several days and spread across more than 20 states. Alabama suffered the most tragedy with 252 Alabamians losing their lives during an 18-hour period. Sixty-two confirmed tornadoes ranging from EF-1 to EF-5 wreaked havoc for a 1200 mile range. The weather alarms blared almost continuously that Wednesday. This week, Governor Ivey ordered that flags be flown at half-staff for a “Day of Remembrance” for the lives lost.

After the storms, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) moved in quickly to assist residents with their most basic needs: housing, food, and clothing. In order to receive assistance, residents had to complete an application. This was often difficult when the tornado had destroyed homes, crushed cars, and blown away your eyeglasses! Vision Service Plan (VSP) set up mobile clinics next to FEMA stations to provide glasses at no charge. VSP needed doctors to assist with eye exams. Optometrists throughout the state began volunteering their time to give back to those in need. The demand was so great that we needed a team to provide care.

Former Community Eye Care (CEC) clinic coordinator, Scelelar “BB” Jefferson, stepped in and began coordinating schedules and assigning doctor and student volunteers from Hackleburg to Pleasant Grove. Working in the community is a natural extension of what the CEC Team does every day. It is also a way for the UAB School of Optometry to give back in a time of disaster.

VSP was so impressed with CEC's ability to see patients in a mobile clinic that they returned to Alabama to assist UAB Eye Care in providing exams and glasses to the uninsured and underinsured in the Birmingham metro area. This tornadic tragedy created a partnership with VSP that has lasted for 10 years and now includes numerous vouchers for eye exams and glasses and the annual Gift of Sight event.