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Student's vision of change restores sight
Jasdeep Manik assists with cataract surgeries in India

California Aggie
Published January 28, 2009

Editor's note: Earlier this month The Aggie published Thuy Tran's first-hand account of her optometric mission in Vietnam. UC Davis junior Jasdeep Manik recently participated in a similar mission in India with nonprofit Unite for Sight.

Imagine looking through a clear plastic glass, filled with water. Now replace that water with milk. This is the world through the eyes of someone with a cataract. But with a $50 surgical procedure, this blur can be restored to the clarity of water.

Jasdeep Manik, a junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, traveled to India in December to assist with these cataract operations. She went as a volunteer with Unite for Sight, a nonprofit aimed at promoting international eye care and assistance. She is vice president of the UC Davis chapter.

The program requires each volunteer to raise a minimum of $1500 to fund cataract surgeries as well as supply a minimum of 300 pairs of eyeglasses. With the help of her mother's company, Manik raised $2120 in about a month, and brought 300 eyeglasses to distribute to patients. The program also required her to take training courses on topics such as culture shock and eye health.

At the start of winter break, she flew to India, stopping first in Punjab to visit relatives. Manik began her volunteer work at the A.B. Eye Institute in Patna, a city in the state of Bahir, India. Under the direction of institute staff Dr. Ajit Sinha, she tested blood pressures and conducted visual tests, as well as assisted with 35 to 40 of the cataract surgeries performed by institute doctors. During her 10-day stay, she worked with 637 patients.

Cataract surgery involves a removal of the clouded lens and replacing it with a synthetic lens, according to the Mayo Clinic's website. This surgery improves vision in 90 percent of patient

She described patients who rely on sewing for income attempting to thread needles after surgery.

"[It is] amazing that in 20 minutes, they get their sight back," Manik said.

Without vision, she said, what work can you do?

During her stay in Bahir, Manik also visited a school for blind girls founded by Ajit. She remembered the girls' friendliness, despite the tragedy of their blindness.

"The sad truth is that the girls that go [there], had they been diagnosed, it could have been prevented," she said.

According to the World Health Organization's website, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally, despite the surgical procedure capable of removing them.

Manik credits her motivation to participate in the program to a lecture given by Andreas Toupadakis, a chemistry lecturer, as part of the Last Lecture Series.

Toupadakis said he encourages students to explore areas of interest by participating in activities such as internships. He said he considers Manik an "incredible example for fellow students."

In a letter thanking him for his guidance, Manik said that his lecture "made [her] realize that life is a continuous journey of learning about oneself."

Initially intending to go medical school, Manik discovered her interest in optometry during her time at UC Davis.

"Someone told me optometrists were really happy and I wanted to know why," Manik said of her first attraction to the field.

She said that many diseases, such as diabetes, can be diagnosed through an eye examination.

"Optometrists are like primary health care providers … guardians [for other problems],"she said.

After graduation from UC Davis, Manik plans to attend optometry school. Her first choice, she said, is UC Berkeley because students conduct clinical trials on their first day.

Manik said she would eventually like to open her own practice, offering free screenings and vision therapy for children.

"[This experience] just makes you realize there's a great need; people can make a difference," she said.

For further information about participating in Unite for Sight, contact Jasdeep Manik at jkmanik@ucdavis.edu.


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