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SCCO Alumni in Hawaii Pitch in on Maui Fire Relief Efforts

Early this fall, Dr. Geoff Reynolds, Dr. Mily Wu-Reynolds, Dr. Evan Tanaka, Dr. Keri Chang-Moises, and fourth year student Richard Nguyen were privileged to serve in a coordinated health care initiative in response to those affected by the fires in Maui.


Representing a collaborative undertaking between VSP Global and the Hawaii Optometric Association, these relief efforts established two temporary yet fully equipped mobile examination stations in one room at a provisional Department of Health facility in Lahaina, where every Thursday over a number of weeks in September and October, nearly 200 individuals received free vision care and over 150 pairs of glasses were prescribed.

From the day the disaster struck Maui, Dr. Reynolds, who runs a private practice in Oahu with his wife Dr. Mily Wu-Reynolds, was motivated to figure out a way that he could provide meaningful assistance in his capacity as an optometrist. As a board member of the Hawaii Optometric Association (HOA) and an ambassador for VSP Global, Dr. Reynolds had no shortage of highly structured and well-equipped channels through which he could offer his help, and he was ready to go right away. However, he and his colleagues at HOA and VSP Global understood that the most appropriate way to prioritize and magnify their efforts in the Maui community would be to follow the lead of those doctors situated there, and so they remained on standby until such a time as they were needed.

Several weeks after the fire, they got the call. Maui is atypical in the sense that even when times are good, there are too-few optometrists as compared to the number of residents, so natural disasters have an outsized effect on the ability of local doctors to serve the needs of the entire community. This made the efforts of the volunteer optometrists crucial for filling in the gaps and alleviating some of the pressure caused by interruptions in service that resulted from the fires. Every Thursday for weeks, Dr. Reynolds, his fourth-year SCCO student intern Richard Nguyen, and their colleagues boarded pre-dawn flights to Maui and worked at the emergency mobile clinic until every last patient for that day was examined, before flying home to Oahu in the evening. For Dr. Reynolds, the tight-knit sense of community woven into every Hawaiian’s understanding of themselves, combined with the responsibilities he shoulders as a health care provider, made his desire to aid in the relief efforts automatic. “It was a fantastic coming together of the profession to help,” he says. “It was very long days, but it felt like nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was our pleasure to be able to go there and provide that kind of care. As health care providers, it’s what we signed up for.”

Group photoAnd while every student at SCCO typically gets a persuasive lesson in the importance of compassion in serving their communities, Richard Nguyen got a front-row seat to an aspect of health care and optometry that not everyone is lucky enough to witness at that stage in their career. Dr. Reynolds made sure he was able to bring Richard along, as this lesson was an essential part of his own education at SCCO. “I recall from my days as a student at SCCO a number of inspirational quotes around campus,” says Dr. Reynolds. “One was,‘The price of greatness is responsibility.’ Not that we walk around thinking we’re great, but if you’re going to leave that campus with the title of doctor and be able to do all these things, you have a responsibility to make sure that your knowledge is used properly. That’s the way we run our practice in Oahu, and it’s what we try to teach Richard here as well.”

Dr. Evan Tanaka is a friend of Dr. Reynolds and serves with him on the board of the HOA. Having been born in Hawaii, he echoes the notion that the state’s unique identity means that the optometrists on the different islands share a unity that goes beyond their membership in the HOA. He too was eager to help in any way he could, and he counts it a privilege to have witnessed this unity in action among the more than 30 volunteers in that small examination room each Thursday. “It was amazing to see the amount of effort to get each and every patient there the best care possible,” recalls Dr. Tanaka. “There were no shortcuts from any provider – it was as if there were all in their own offices. It was pretty neat to see everyone giving their best efforts to get the job done, no questions asked.”SCCO Alumni helping with Hawaii fires

Dr. Tanaka also sees his time at SCCO as formative in terms of always asking how he can best serve the needs of his community, and he considers it an honor that he’s serving the community he grew up in. “SCCO created the type of patient-first and community-first culture during my time there that has shaped the way I approach care for my patients and the community,” he says.

Both Dr. Tanaka and Dr. Reynolds returned to the islands of Hawaii after completing their studies at SCCO, to give back to a place from which they received so much. Their participation in the emergency relief efforts, while of course notable, was a natural byproduct of a mindset that was instilled in them from the beginning. “The profession, the school, and the community have given me and my family so much,” said Dr. Reynolds. “Any way at all that we can give back and do something positive in the community, to be able to go and help when help is needed, we just don’t think twice.”