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by Satina Richardson

In its seventh year, the Gift of Sight is the UAB School of Optometry’s biggest giving event. Organizers were determined to hold the event despite the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to provide free comprehensive eye exams and glasses to 227 low-income and underinsured patients.

Changes were made to ensure the safety of patients as well as UAB faculty, staff and students. There wasn’t a marathon three-day event that begins at Western Health Center and culminates with patients from area shelters or group facilities crowding the on-campus UAB Eye Care lobby all day on a Saturday. 

Instead, underserved patients became part of the clinic schedule at Western Health Center beginning in early November. Rural Area Medical (RAM), usually onsite only for the Saturday event, set up at the Western clinic the week of November 30th to make glasses while patients waited. The last Gift of Sight patient was seen on December 11th.

Ocular conditions included glaucoma, detached retina, ocular hypertension and degenerative myopia. On day five a young man arrived at his appointment with electrical tape over one side of his glasses, because one of his lenses had fallen out of his glasses, and it was easier for him to see with his blurred eye (-6.00) covered. RAM was able to cut his lenses as soon as the UAB team refracted him. He left with glasses. 

“Reorganizing the event required some ingenuity,” said Janene Sims, OD, PhD, Community Eye Care director at the UAB School of Optometry. “The UABSO family along with RAM, Vision Service Plan’s Eyes of Hope and Essilor’s Changing Lives Through Lenses came together and made Gift of Sight happen during these unprecedented times. There is always a need for care and we didn’t want to disappoint patients who rely on this annual event for assistance. We wanted something to be normal in the midst of COVID.”