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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Gulf Coast Reflection, Sept. 15, 2005

The Bascom Palmer Vision Van Hurricane Katrina Relief Team has finished the first full day of operations in Lousiana. Dr. Steve Couvillion arrived Monday morning and Dr. Andrew Moshfeghi arrived Tuesday morning to serve as the “advance team” to set up operations. The advance team met with emergency management officials at the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which is temporarily housed at the former headquarters of Jimmy Swaggart’s World Ministry. There officials from FEMA, military, local police, and the Louisiana Department of Health are convened to coordinate relief efforts throughout the region and New Orleans. Officials at the EOC provided us with physician accreditation and directed us toward the best sites for relief operations. Although Baton Rouge was not directly affected by the Hurricane, it has doubled in size over the past week due to the arrival of thousands of evacuees from New Orleans. As a result, the city’s infrastructure is stretched thin and the roads are quite crowded, hampering relief efforts. Mike Kelly and Carl Edouard Denis arrived Wednesday in the Vision Van having driven through the Hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast for the previous 36 hours. At one point, we received a message from them that they stopped in Waveland, MS for gas only to learn that Waveland essentially no longer exists.

Dr. Moshfeghi interviewWe spent the first full day of operations camped along the Mississippi riverfront at a large convention center called River Center, where roughly some 1200 people are being temporarily housed for at least the next 60 days. On-site FEMA, National Guard, and Baton Rouge police officials worked with us to find a high-visibility site to park the Vision Van for eyecare delivery. We were parked in front of the convention center’s main entrance in front of several vans from various press organizations (NBC affiliates from New Orleans and Oklahoma city and CNN). Dr. Moshfeghi was interviewed by reporters from WDSU (New Orleans NBC affiliate) outlining our relief efforts. Dr. Couvillion, after helping us get situated at the Convention Center, left this afternoon to attend a family wedding, but may return next week.

We were joined by two other Bascom Palmer Eye Institute technical staff Thursday. Ramon Diaz and Greg Freelove have been indispensable in triaging and working-up the patients in the Vision Van. We’ve seen numerous patients (approximately 50) with just one exam lane. Every patient receives a targeted ophthalmic exam, including vision with refraction, IOP check, slit lamp exam, and fundus exam. The findings have been varied with most patients looking for replacement glasses (lost/forgot/left in their New Orleans homes). The next most common problem is patients who have not had access to their glaucoma drops. However, some problems were more severe. One patient presented with a retinal detachment and suspected fungal endophthalmitis and another was ruled-out for ruptured globe and sustained several periocular lacerations that were treated here on the van. We have also seen patients who have never sought ophthalmic care who are using this opportunity to be evaluated. Many of these patients have been found to have occult pathology such as dislocated intraocular lens, moderate to advanced NPDR, lattice degeneration, glaucoma, uncorrected myopia, and advanced cataracts.

We have more than $100,000 worth of ophthalmic products and monetary donations from Alcon, Allergan, Angel Perez of the BPEI Optical Dispensary, Bill Winegar from the BPEI contact lens service, and the Congressional Glaucoma Foundation. Not to be forgotten is the Josephine S. Leiser Foundation, whose contributions made the Vision Van possible. Contributions included over a thousand bottles of ocular medications, several hundered spectacles of varying spherical strength and reading spectacles, contact lenses, solar shields. BPEI has also provided all the necessary components of functioning exam lane and minor OR with enough materials to last several weeks, if necessary.

Mike Kelly and I met with officials from the EOC this evening who have asked us to come to downtown New Orleans to evaluate the “first responders” who are helping in search-and-rescue, fire, and security operations. We will be based out of the local EOC in downtown New Orleans (temporarily housed at the riverfront Harrah’s Casino across from the New Orleans Convention Center).

Look for updates and more photos Friday evening.

Andrew, Steve, Mike, Ramon, Carl, and Greg

Andrew A. Moshfeghi, MD

amoshfeghi@med.miami.edu