Last fall, Dr. Daniel Forthomme, one of the pioneers who helped launch Optométristes Sans Frontières (OSF) in 1988, retired after more than 20 years of hard work in the field and on OSF’s advisory committee.
A professor at the Université de Montréal school of optometry (as well as its director from 1985 to 1989), Daniel Forthomme found it difficult to watch so many pairs of glasses being thrown away. “I thought it would be great to be able to recycle them, so I asked six or seven students to pitch in on Sundays,” he explains.
Then, the telephone rang. Dr. Fernand Laflamme, an Acton Vale optometrist who was acquainted with a Quebec priest actively involved in Honduras, invited Dr. Forthomme to go there, provide eye examinations and give glasses to people in need.
“Once we got started, we kept adding missions and going to other countries,” says Dr. Forthomme, specifying that Terre Sans Frontières (TSF) joined them in their efforts after a few missions. “We were sort of winging it, but when Terre Sans Frontières came on board and Optométristes Sans Frontières was created, we had a structure that facilitated our interventions in the field,” explains, Dr. Forthomme. “During our last missions, a team of three optometrists could provide 500 eye exams!”
In total, Daniel Forthomme easily went on 20 missions in seven or eight countries, including Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Philippines, Peru and Ecuador.
“Peru really left an impression on me, with its courageous and hardworking people who were always willing to lend a hand. As for Ecuador, well, that’s where I had a heart attack mid-mission,” he recalls; he would have gone on more missions and continued to be involved if his health had permitted him to do so.
“When people have limited resources, they are abandoned,” says Daniel Forthomme, who is adamant about the importance of helping those in need. “During my very first mission, I was shocked by the lack of care people endure, while here, we have an abundance of facilities, services and follow-ups,” he adds.
His memories are filled with little anecdotes, like the one about a young girl with high myopia for whom he found glasses, who came back the next day to tell him she could see too well. Or the seamstresses who struggled to thread their needles but couldn’t afford to lose their source of income.
“It takes very little effort for us to help these people, but for them, it’s life changing. It’s very motivating.”
In the course of his missions, Dr. Forthomme has not noted any particular condition in the patients he’s examined. “The human eye defends itself quite well against infection, even in poor environments where hygiene is an issue. Essentially, we need to correct vision problems, which is why it pains me to still see glasses being thrown out. They are a treasure!” he says.
Daniel Forthomme thinks it’s unfortunate that finding optometrists willing to go into the field and offer services is difficult. “Many young graduates are interested in this kind of experience, but they also want to start working, open a clinic, start a family… When they put off getting involved for too long, they lose their motivation,” he says. “It’s such a wonderful experience; I wish everyone could do it.”
TSF sincerely thanks Dr. Daniel Forthomme for his remarkable commitment