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Lindon doctor makes eye opening trip to Armenia

JAMIE LAWSON – North County Staff

Eye care is a little more advanced in Armenia today, thanks to the LDS Church and the volunteer work of a Lindon doctor.

Dr. Matthew Parsons traveled to Armenia in December, where he spent a week performing glaucoma and cataract surgeries and training local doctors on the latest advances in modern eye care.

Parsons went to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, on behalf of LDS Humanitarian Services, to help the church with its worldwide vision care initiative. He was teamed with another ophthalmologist from Cleveland, Ohio.

“Our main goals were to establish relationships, train local doctors and increase the availability of modern eye care for people who can’t afford it,” Parsons said. “We don’t want to go into another country and say, ‘Stand back and let us do it.’ Instead, we want to enable doctors in these countries to care for their own people.”

Parsons and his partner, Dr. Scott Smith, presented lectures to 35 doctors, some traveling from other countries to attend.

Wade Sperry, who oversees The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ vision program, said he chose Parsons because “he is a high quality eye surgeon with the set of skills that we needed to provide training in Armenia.”

The purpose of the program, Sperry said, is to provide training and basic medical equipment to local doctors, help strengthen local hospitals and medical schools that provide eye care to the poor and the needy and to help them with goals they are already trying to meet.

Parsons’s wife, Karen Parsons, accompanied him on the trip.

“It was such a wonderful experience to meet the Armenian people and learn their history,” she said. “I was also reminded of all the blessings that we have here at home. We met a woman there whose entire family lives on $15 a month and can only afford to heat their home for 30 minutes a day.”

In addition to providing medical services and training, Parsons took thousands of dollars in donated medical equipment with him. And while the LDS Church provides basic medical equipment that physicians can feel comfortable using and repairing, Parsons personally acquired extra, more advanced equipment with the help of Doug Gunnell, also of Lindon.

Gunnell, who works for a surgical supply company, secured the donation of a phacoemulsification unit — a machine that removes cataracts.

“It was almost miraculous how everything worked out,” Gunnell said. “Dr. Parsons called me the same day that the machine became available. LDS Hospital had just purchased a new machine, so they were happy to donate their old one for his trip.”

The expedition to Armenia is not the first Parsons has done for the LDS Church. Two years ago, he went to Peru to begin the very first efforts of the vision care initiative, and since then the program has grown tremendously.

“In 2005, we trained 1,500 surgeons and treated 15,000 patients in 15 countries,” Sperry said. “We are planning 15 more international projects for 2006.”

Parsons also traveled to Ethiopia this past summer to give basic medical care through a charity called Village of Hope. He took his 17-year-old son, Matthew, with him because he wanted his son to be exposed to living conditions in Third World countries and “see how other people in the world live.”

The most rewarding part of the Armenia trip for Parsons was establishing friendships with fellow ophthalmologists from other parts of the world. In fact, he said he hopes to return to Armenia this summer.

“I didn’t get to accomplish everything I wanted to do,” he said. “A major piece of equipment was donated, but because of bad weather conditions, it didn’t arrive while I was there. I want to go back and spend a week training doctors on that machine.”

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