Making a difference through SVOSH

Dana Shannon is a University of Alabama (UAB) School of Optometry graduate who’s currently completing her ocular disease residency at the University of Chicago. During her time at UAB, Dana spent all four years volunteering with Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH). Here, Dana shares why SVOSH has been an incredibly meaningful part of her life.

Getting Involved With SVOSH

As a first-year student, Dana involved herself with SVOSH by going to board meetings and relaying information to her classmates. She went on to become the SVOSH chapter president during her third year. Through Dana’s leadership, SVOSH grew into her school’s largest club of about 80 members!

Despite the extra responsibilities, Dana relished her tenure as president. As she puts it, “I initially thought that I would be overwhelmed as president, but I found that it was way more fun than overwhelming. It was fun to plan our fundraisers, club events, mission trips, and see the true impact our club was able to make locally and globally. We always had a great time!” Such events included Dining in the Dark, where attendees wore goggles that simulated glaucoma or macular degeneration to experience what patients go through daily.

Her chapter also worked with Remote Area Medical to attend several domestic mission trips throughout the year, including parts of rural Tennessee. Dana recounts the overwhelming gratitude patients expressed during these clinics. “A lot of patients would drive four hours, sleep in their car, and wait until the clinic opened at 6:00 AM. It was eye-opening to discover that so many people in our own country do not have the same access to health and vision care. Despite the long waits, our patients were always kind and appreciative of our service. That's what kept me coming back, just knowing I'm doing something meaningful for other people.”

Helping The Global Community

Dana’s first mission trip landed her in San Estevan, Belize, where SVOSH teamed up with the local Lions Club to provide 576 exams in less than four days. The team accomplished this amazing feat by working from dusk until dawn, getting bitten by all types of mosquitoes in their outdoor clinic. Despite having to be outdoors, Dana describes the operation as a “well-oiled machine.” They made the best of their setup—including performing fundus exams inside a storage closet!

With help from the local Lions Club in San Estevan, SVOSH followed up with patients referred for cataracts, pterygia, glaucoma, and other conditions. They also distributed many pairs of donated glasses to those who needed correction, matching the patient’s prescription as closely as possible. Dana recalls a heartwarming moment in which the team was able to find a pair of glasses for a little boy who needed +7.00 correction. She fondly recalls, “it was a really rewarding experience being there.”

In addition to helping the local community, Dana immersed herself in Belizean culture. “The host family made sure that we were fed well. They brought us fresh fruit like coconuts, mangoes, and other fruits that are native to Belize. At dinner time, we always ate together as a family.” Dana’s language skills also allowed her to connect with patients on a more personal level. “When I started speaking Spanish, they lit up. They felt more comfortable with us. [All it took was a] simple gesture of speaking the language and really listening. I think they deeply appreciated that.”

Looking Forward

Dana’s currently focused on completing her ocular disease residency as one of the first optometry residents at the University of Chicago. She says, “the learning curve is steep, but it's been such a fun journey.” After residency, Dana has plans to remain in her hometown of Chicago. Dana hopes to become a VOSH member and work with local SVOSH chapters at the Illinois College of Optometry and Chicago College of Optometry.

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