Taking his vision abroad
by Courtney Price
DENVER – Imagine you’re a tailor in a far away country. Your handiwork is the only thing that you have to support your family.
Now imagine you’re losing your vision, and you can’t see well enough to work. What will happen to your wife and children?
This is just one of many stories Dr. David Curtis recalls from his missions.
“I was in Kenya, and this guy walked in and just started weeping. Tears were rolling off his cheeks.
“When we asked him what was wrong, he said my wife and two children are starving to death. I’m a tailor and I can’t thread the needle,” Curtis said. “We gave him a pair of reading glasses, and hopefully he’s feeding his family today with them.”
Curtis makes several trips each year to less-developed countries to provide eye care.
“In the early 1990s I really felt a call to go on mission trips to give eye care. I didn’t go for several years, but finally in 1999 I went on my first trip to India,” Curtis said.
“I was just blown away by the tremendous need for eye care and what a great evangelism eye care can be,” he said.
He’s been to India, Peru, Uganda, Chile, Macedonia and Kenya, among others.
When he started, Curtis owned his eye care practice, but found it tough to take so many trips overseas and keep the practice going.
He brought in two more doctors, Scott Nishek and Matt Motteler, and eventually sold the practice to Nishek.
“Now I work for them, and that freed me up to go on my mission trips,” Curtis said. “I go on about five trips per year.”
He’s made 48 trips in the last 12 years and has examined about 47,000 patients.
For each trip, he takes about 2,000 pairs of used eyeglasses to see about 1,000 patients per visit.
“The incredible need is that virtually everyone will need eye care at some point,” Curtis said. “There’s only one way to avoid needing eye care in your life, and that’s to die early. If you live a normal lifespan, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’re going to need reading glasses, and it’s virtually guaranteed that you’re going to develop cataracts.”
He usually holds clinics for six to eight days, and he joins with the Tom Cox World Ministry or other mission groups.
“It’s just me. I just hook on with other folks going on trips,” he said.
But it’s not exactly just him. He’s been working for the last few years to train others to do the eye clinics.
Curtis said that the lack of eye care providers in other countries makes the need much greater in the countries he’s visited. In the U.S., he said, there’s generally one eye care provider per 4,500 people. In India it’s one per 100,000 patients, and in Africa there’s one eye doctor per million.
“I quickly realized that I couldn’t scratch the surface, personally,” Curtis said. He had a hard time recruiting eye doctors for the missions, so he tried another method.
“I decided I would train some eye doctors. I developed a one-day seminar, called Eye Doc in a Box, training laymen how to do eye clinics in third-world countries.”
He’s trained about 400 people, who can now go and give eye clinics themselves when they go on mission trips. “My students have examined about 80,000 patients, so we’re growing a little bit,” Curtis said. He hopes that he and his students will see 100,000 patients a year. Last year they saw about 35,000.
“There are millions of people who are born, they’re taught to read, they grow up and lose their vision, and then they’re illiterate again. They can no longer read.
“You can just change people’s lives,” he said. “You can really make a huge difference.”
Curtis said that he’s driven by his faith to use his skill to give back.
“We just don’t realize what great blessing it is just to be born in this country. I feel like I need to give back something, and as a Christian, eye care is just a great tool. You demonstrate the love of God very dramatically,” he said.
“If you go to a third-world country and do a medical clinic, you give a patient medicine and they’ll feel better in a few days,” Curtis said.
“But with eye care, there’s instant gratification. One minute you can’t see, the next minute you can. And even if you’re illiterate, you’ll still need reading glasses to see some things.”
Want to help?
Curtis is always looking for donations of used prescription eyeglasses to carry on his trips. There’s also a fund for contributions at Westport Baptist Church. For more information about the eye care training or trips, visit www.eyedocinabox.com.