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Volunteers With Vision

Albert Myers

JSEI volunteer Albert Myers grew up surrounded by a world of medicine. His grandfather was the Dean of Medicine at Indiana University, and his father was an ophthalmologist in Santa Monica. But when it came time to choose his career, Albert took a different path. He chose art.

While he loves his life as a photographer, and professor of photography at Santa Monica College and Antelope Valley College, he never lost his curiosity about healing.

“It goes back to me as a five-year old, trailing my dad in his office, meeting his patients, being in that environment of care, and the miracles he performed with his scalpel on the human eye, that was something marvelous,” he remembers.

Albert, who’s been called Dutch most of his life, has been recognized for completing over 500 hours of volunteer service to UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital. He’s been a volunteer at Jules Stein Eye Institute since 2012.

“One of the things my dad used to do that impressed me was to fix the eyes of children shot with a BB gun,” he recalls. “That ties in with what I do now with the Vision In-School program. We talk about eye safety, the importance of wearing goggles and emphasize the delicacy of the eye,” he says.

The Vision In-School program targets 5th and 6th graders. It’s a time when they are beginning to get into sports, which could present opportunities for eye-related accidents.

“We start our sessions with the question ‘what do we do at the UCLA Stein Eye Institute,’” Albert clarifies. “Part of what I do is make them aware, and hopefully inspire them and maybe they’ll want to fix eyes one day.”

At Stein Eye, he began his volunteer experience by assisting with the Preschool Vision Screening program, which helps identify refractive errors or eye muscle problems in children age three and a half to four. Each screening involves a team of four to five volunteers, including a retired optometrist. Sometimes, medical students are part of the experience, which gives them invaluable first-hand experience.

“What impressed me was something that never occurred to me – many preschoolers cannot see worth beans.” He elaborates, “So before they can fall behind, we test them and if they do not do well, the preschool vision screening will look a little deeper and send a note home to the parents, saying your son or daughter needs to see an eye doctor.” He adds, “One of my main jobs is reassuring them they are not getting a shot. That is a big fear. I love the preschoolers. They’re so sweet and innocent, cooperative and fascinated by what we’re doing.”

Albert has found a way to make an impact while connecting his love of photography to his fascination with medicine. He brings his camera to each screening and captures precious moments as the team and the child meet eye to eye.

“Understanding what you’ve accomplished, about saving some eyes from possible injury, saving a child that may not be able to see well, getting them glasses and possibly changing their education. I feel good about those things,” he says.

The Vision In-School and Preschool Vision Screening programs are extremely important and effective Albert feels. He believes his father and grandfather would approve of his life-long interest in medicine, and his efforts to help others. “There might be a caring gene, and I think I may have got a little bit of that,” he says. “I volunteer because I truly enjoy teaching and the feedback I get from the students. As a photographer and educator I have a connection to healthy vision and the importance of our precious and irreplaceable, miraculous eyes.”

By Deborah Goodwin, JSEI Affiliates Volunteer


Clarissa Chan

Having an eye condition as a child motivated UCLA student Clarissa Chan to pursue a career in medicine. She was diagnosed with strabismus, a problem that prevents the eyes from working as a team, and had surgery to correct the problem.

“My ophthalmologist lives in the bay area and works with an optometrist. I saw both as a patient, so it’s come full circle,” Clarissa explains. “I have good things to say about both professions, but I’m finding myself drawn to Ophthalmology. I love the interesting cases they get,” she adds. By working as a volunteer at Jules Stein Eye Institute, Clarissa is able to explore the fields of Optometry and Ophthalmology while still working on her bachelor’s degree.

“As a volunteer now, I get a lot of clinical experience – that’s the most important thing,” Clarissa says. “I’m getting the hang of how to act around people when they are in the exam room, how to talk to them – that’s the biggest thing I’m getting out of volunteering.”

Her experience as a child with vision problems helps her when she interacts with the children that are benefiting from screenings offered by Jules Stein.

“There are times, where you have to remember to be patient. There is frustration involved like every other occupation, but taking their photo, doing the scan on the machine, making them hold still for a long time, giving them a reward, makes it worth it for me,” she says. “Seeing them happy and knowing that you did something that will help them in the future, that’s why I want to be in medicine and that’s why I volunteer.”

Clarissa enjoys a variety of learning opportunities as a volunteer, including participation in a study on Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, which is providing her with some useful new skills.

“All the struggle I’ve gone through to recruit patients, making sure their parents are comfortable with the study, making sure they have time for the study, coordinating with people who actually take the pictures, I feel it’s worth it at the end, especially if it produces some good results,” Clarissa explains. “Just the idea that you are helping, trying to make a change, trying to find out something new is important. Finding out something new is my favorite part of volunteering,” she says.

By Deborah Goodwin, JSEI Affiliates Volunteer


Jason Naderi

UCLA student Jason Naderi is a very curious young man, and he’s been feeding that curiosity for the last four years as a volunteer at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.

“When I came to UCLA I still had no idea what kind of doctor I wanted to be. I started volunteering through the Jules Stein Eye Institute, and realized there are so many volunteer opportunities here, it’s hard to choose,” Jason explained.

So, he just jumped in. He has assisted with vision screening in preschools, worked with technicians in the mobile eye clinic, and helped with research in the lab of Dr. Sophie Deng, cornea specialist at JSEI.

His journey as a volunteer has even taken him back to his former elementary school. “We give a Vision In-School presentation to the students in the class, mostly 5th graders, about the eye, the importance of the eye, the anatomy of the eye and how to keep your eyes healthy,” he said. “It was my teacher’s classroom I had in fifth grade, same exact teacher, she said ‘Wow, back in fifth grade you weren’t even doing your homework, now look at you.’”

The presentation includes dissecting a cow’s eye, which gets the students’ attention and sparks curiosity. It gave Jason some new insight as well. “Through that I realized the eye is such a beautiful organ, there are so many components to it, so much can be done with it, research, procedures, teaching people about it. That drew my interest to ophthalmology.”

His attraction to ophthalmology deepened when Dr. Daniel Rootman, an orbit and ophthalmic plastic surgery specialist at UCLA, allowed Jason to shadow him while seeing patients in clinic. “I see what he does on a daily basis and it really interests me. There’s so much you can do with ophthalmology,” Jason explains. “I see how he deals with his patients and I think, wow, I want to be like him one day.”

As Jason heads to medical school, he is still fine-tuning his career path, but knows that his experience as a JSEI volunteer has been invaluable in helping him refine his options, focus his desires and find more meaning to his life as a student. “It’s programs like these that taught me the importance of giving back,” he said. “Part of our duty being here, being on this planet, we need to give back. It’s the least I can do for all the teachers who have taught me throughout the year how to excel.”

By Deborah Goodwin, JSEI Affiliates Volunteer