(Dr. Richard Cross, optometrist in Boulder, is a member of both the American & Colorado Optometric Associations. Dr. Cross co-manages laser refractive surgical correction (LASIK & PRK). He fits contact lens for patients with bifocals,keratoconus, dry eyes, & astigmatism.)
During these challenging times, we are pleased to be talking with Dr. Richard Cross, a true humanitarian. He's made a career - and a life - of helping people thrive and transform their lives.... leaving no one in need behind.
It's frightening when you start to lose your vision, and you have no where to turn. Bringing eye care, surgery and providing glasses to the disadvantaged people of rural Jamaica through the Eye Health Institute, a nonprofit Dr. Cross founded, it is estimated that half the population of Jamaica (1.4 million people) will never receive eye care. Dr. Cross is out to change that statistic. The Eye Health Institute's goal is to make eye care accessible for everyone in the country. So far, the Eye Health Institute has seen over 8,000 patients since they began in 2001, performing over 100 sight restoring surgeries and conducting hundreds of screening in schools.
Here in Colorado, Dr. Cross started the Boulder Vision Center in 1993 specializing in comprehensive vision and medical eye care administered by highly experienced doctors. He and his staff are fully equipped with the latest high-tech vision equipment to provide his patients with an in-clinic quick turn-around diagnosis. The Boulder Vision Center's welcoming atmosphere is there to put patients at ease and feel comfortable. It's certainly worth a trip up from Denver!
Dr. Richard Cross's patients have said it best by praising him: "I've been coming to see Dr. Cross for over 10 years. He's the best! Very professional, personable and helpful and has worked with me to get the "crispest" possible vision available."
"I have been seeing Dr. Cross for many years. He uses the latest technology and makes me laugh a lot every time I get my eyes checked."
" Dr. Cross, from start to finish, has impressed me and so has his entire staff. He was amazing as always and took the time to make my son feel comfortable during his exam with Dr. Cross's unique warm and welcoming manner. Dr. Cross should also be recognized for all he does for the community and all the humanitarian, compassionate work he does abroad to help the poor people of Jamaica. He's got a big heart!"
(Dr. Cross was involved in the Amrion Age Related Macular Degeneration Research Study & Contact Lens Ocular Complication Study. He has served in the past as a proctor for the Colorado State Board of Examiners, & participated in Psychology Research at Ferris State University. He has served on the "Gunbarrel Public Improvement District", the SCFD/Boulder County Citizens Cultural Advisory Committee, & the Board of Trustee's for The Boulder Community Foundation. Currently, he is working with the University of Michigan's "3rd Century Initiative Project" to help improve health care in developing countries.)
What inspired you to do the work you do for the less fortunate people in Jamaica? My mom was born in Jamaica. We have family there, and I would spend my summers with my grandparents. It’s like my second home. Mom met my Dad while they were both students at Michigan State, so I grew up in Michigan.
I then worked for Dr. Jane Wolford in Longmont, and she volunteered me to go with a group doing a medical mission, so I could do translating in Jamaica; and I ended up doing work with two other opticians who provided the eye care on the mission. When we got there, it was in a part of the island that I hadn’t spent much time in before. We treated 100 + patients and had to turn down another 100 each a day. We agreed to return outside of the mission to try and keep up with the demand and help the other people we had to turn away. We went a third time, and the Ministry of Health there had us help in the adjacent parish where we set up another clinic. It became a part of what we wanted to do to help these people since 1996, when I founded the nonprofit, “Eye Health Institute.” We have been back at least every year…. except 2020. The country is struggling now since they depend so much on tourism.
How much does "based in faith" play a role for you and your other health industry volunteers, or is it more about your own experiences there as well as just compassion for others? Our volunteers all from all kinds of backgrounds. I grew up going to the Anglican Church where we were taught to always look out for your neighbor. The people who participate in our missions are from all walks of life…. including spiritual. It’s a personally rewarding and humbling experience. It’s different from a vacation; it’s a whole different type of trip. It’s rewarding seeing the patients and introducing them to other people on the island who can help with their care.
Do people who do humanitarian work truly love what they do? I think they do. Sometimes they feel they are getting more out of it than the patients! It’s extremely rewarding for me to help those who have no medical care. Also fulfilling is bringing optometric students to learn about eye care as a global profession where they can focus on the needs of the people, as opposed to worrying about insurance concerns as it is in the US. Even if the students haven’t graduated from school yet, they learn to give the highest standard of care no matter what. For "third world countries," it could end up being the only eye care these patients ever receive.
How do you deal with the sadness and heartache involved? It is not easy to leave Jamaica knowing other people still need help. That’s why we return each year. The impetus to create our nonprofit was because of the need. We get the names and contact numbers for the people we weren’t able to serve, so we can contact them the next time we are there.
Does it create any concerns or challenges for you to work with less sophisticated equipment and resources when you provide eye care in Jamaica? Yes. It is difficult to maintain equipment because of the climate of Jamaica. The humidity, moisture and salt ruins the equipment. We have to be able to maintain & repair it; and we need to obtain permanent climate-controlled buildings to house the delicate equipment.
When you go on your medical missions, who pays for the expenses involved? We are a "grassroots" organization. Everyone pays their own way. The need is so overwhelming because of the poverty and the health care system. It's an honor for us to help the sweet-spirited people of Jamaica.
Do you usual bond with the patients you serve; and do you stay in touch with them? Yes we do. One patient who we are trying to bring to the US is a Keratoconus patience. The front of his eyes start to protrude like an orange pile-on and the eye has a pointed front. What we need to do is perform Eye Corneal Cross-linking. Riboflavin drops with UV can also strengthen the condition so it doesn’t progress. We have many other interesting stories about patients, and family members have documented their stories. Several patients can later be trained to become Optometric techs themselves.
When you are in Jamaica, how many hours do you spend serving your patients? We stay for two weeks and are in the clinic around five days. Before that, we schedule several days for cataract surgeries, and stay so we can provide the follow up care. We have a presence there for at least three weeks….then also spend one week in-clinic with the interns. We arrive three or four days early to set up & then close up. On these surgical missions, we work with the Ministry of Health & local health care providers, so we also become aware of people we are referred to who have diabetic issues. Our colleague, Dr. Peter Andrews from Tennessee, will work with the locals to provide cataract & corneal transplants, & he has learned new surgical techniques. We also train the nurses at the various health care centers to perform various procedures.
What is your fondest childhood memory? Going to Jamaica as a kid and learning how to snorkel. It helped me appreciate the beauty of the ocean and the climate there, especially coming from Michigan. It was always sad leaving my grandparents who lived there. I believe it’s a healthier lifestyle because people don’t have cars, and they do a lot of walking. They just walk to wherever they have to go to buy fruits and vegetables which keeps them healthy.
What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now? I would like to spend more time in Jamaica helping the next generation of ophthalmologists/optometrists showing them how to help the people of Jamaica. I would also like to help train a successor to keep our clinic fully operational. Create stronger partnerships with optometry schools to provide additional training for their students.
We take interns to Jamaica who normally see three to six patients a week; and when they come on our missions, they see a minimum of 30 patients a day doing complete exams. By the time they finish, they feel they are much further ahead than their peers. I'm very proud of that. They feel it helps them be a much better doctor, and they learn more than just medical skills. We have trained and groomed many previous students to go to Jamaica or another needy country to continue their work.
What is the best advice you have ever received? Probably my Dad telling me that there will be times when everybody else around you is wrong. Decide if you are going to agree or not. It takes more strength to stand up for what you know is true. This guides me to help patients that deserve the best care we can provide. As long as we do what we believe is right, we will feel good about what we have done....this is the same for our volunteers.
Is there something you wish you had learned how to do? I wish I’d kept up with my High School Spanish… so useful today. Wish I had taken more time to learn about the public health systems. Never thought I would be running a nonprofit when I left school. I also need to learn more about international health. I can continue to go back to all of this learning I hope.
How has your humanitarian work changed you as a person? It has always been beneficial to step out of the rat-race to be able to go somewhere where people tend to be happier and appreciate the things they have, even if it's much less than what we have. I appreciate more than ever the things that I do have. I appreciate the value of living more simplistically. I love going to a place where I can just enjoy taking time, in addition to work… to swim, eat, and visit with people.
You mentioned you would love to see your program expand to other needy countries. What will it take to make that happen? We need the opportunity to show people how to follow our model and help them establish relations with other countries such as helping other “third-world countries” provide services and self-sustaining health care to those who are sick; create ship container clinics that can also provide optometric care, dental care, to countries that don't have access to much, help train their staff to provide more care, and advance the field of telemedicine where patients can work with doctors and medical staff without coming to a clinic and still get the care they need.
What can the rest of us do to help you with your mission? For us to grow, we need additional financial support so we can find a better location in Jamaica for a permanent clinic where we can see more patients, more frequently. A property where we can expand our presence. And, we always need more volunteers. We couldn’t do all of this without our volunteers from Colorado, Michigan, Canada and other places. I am in debt to all of them!
How can people contact your organization? www.eyehealthinstitute.org. We are also part of: ColoradoGives.org; and they give additional funds to add to what we raise during “Colorado Gives Day.” You can also reach us by calling: 720-552-5602.
What are some words of wisdom you can share with us? "Only together can we change the world."
What would you like your legacy to be? I want it to be known that I helped other people learn the value of volunteering and donating their time so it helps to continue eye care for future generations. If it continues after I'm gone, that would be an excellent legacy.