The gift of sight, one lens at a time

April 21, 2015
Dr. Erin Boese

Casey Eye Institute resident Erin Boese, M.D., believes in the power of small actions.

“It is an easy way to make a huge difference. It’s only a couple of minutes of time, a few dollars in shipping and it has the power to transform someone’s life,” she said.

She’s speaking of the newly-formed Portland chapter of ReSpectacle, a non-profit organization that was founded by pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Jeffery Lynch. As Dr. Boese explained it: “Glasses are expensive, and there are many people around the world who simply cannot afford them. People have historically been generous about donating used eye wear to help with this need, but the challenge has been matching those lenses to a recipient in terms of prescription, style and fit.” answers this need. It’s a non-profit database that contains detailed information about the prescription strength and fit of thousands of pairs of glasses, along with a picture of the frames. The lenses are available free of charge to anyone in the world who needs them.  

ReSpectacle is a wholly volunteer-run organization. Glasses are gathered, processed and stored by student and resident volunteers at chapter locations across the country. When individuals find glasses in the database that match their needs, they make a request online. A volunteer at the chapter where those specific lenses are stored sends them off: The current domestic shipping cost is a mere $2.42, which is covered by donations made to the organization.  Respectacle

Dr. Boese first became involved with ReSpectacle as a medical student at the University of Iowa and has since founded the Portland chapter at OHSU – the first such chapter on the West Coast. The Portland chapter has held two processing events in 2015 as OHSU School of Medicine residents and M.D. students cleaned, cataloged and photographed 238 pairs of lenses. 

According to Andreas Lauer, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, OHSU School of Medicine, and director of Casey Eye Institute’s residency program, “Improved vision increases educational opportunities, employment opportunities, productivity, happiness and independence for an overall improved quality of life.” He said, “Refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism) affect a large proportion of the population worldwide, irrespective of age, sex and ethnic group. It is estimated that globally 153 million people over 5 years of age are visually impaired as a result of uncorrected refractive errors, of whom 8 million are blind (World Health Organization). ReSpectacle is one of several outreach efforts that help us make a difference in the lives of some of these people.”

RespectacleDr. Boese said ReSpectacle is a perfect fit for “the community of giving at OHSU. One of the things that drew me to Casey Eye Institute for my training is the unique focus on community service. There are few places like this.” 

Dr. Boese plans to hold every-other-month processing events so even more students and residents may be involved. “The response, especially from medical students and my co-residents, has been wonderful,” she said. “It’s rewarding.” As ReSpectacle grows, Dr. Boese hopes to collaborate with other community outreach programs and local civic organizations to make a larger community impact.

Looking toward her own future, Dr. Boese is undecided what ophthalmology sub-specialty she’ll pursue, but she does know that service will always be a part of her medical career. For now, she’s focusing on the power of small actions, recruiting volunteers and organizing the first batch of donated glasses.