Changing lives: Local optometrist helps give eye exams overseas

When the opportunity to improve the lives for kids overseas presented itself, Dr. Nathan Otte couldn’t turn the chance down.

Over a four-day span the first week of this month, Otte joined a group of seven optometrists and eight Indiana University student-interns that provided eye exams for 810 children in Negril, Jamaica.

Each year, the Indiana University School of Optometry partners with nonprofit organization Cornerstone Jamaica for its See Better — Learn Better initiative.

It was the first time Otte, owner of Dr. Nate Optometrist, 314 S. Chestnut St., Seymour, had become involved with the organization.

The program started with distributing vision screenings and glasses to kids in Jamaica but grew to more over time.

“They realized they needed much more than just a screening,” Otte said. “They needed a full exam, so they partnered with IU. (Cornerstone) provides all the logistics of getting everything set up in schools. They order the glasses, and they get them two weeks later.”

In Jamaica, the doctors worked with first-, third- and fifth-graders.

“We really target elementary schools in Jamaica because after grade 6, they take an exam. Depending on how they score on that exam will depend on which high school they have access to,” Otte said. “Based on what high school they have access to will determine their career opportunities. Something as simple as a pair of glasses so they can see in school could potentially change the course of their lives.”

Otte, a Seymour native, graduated from IU with a Ph.D. in 2008. He then worked at practices in Seymour and Columbus before opening his own business in 2013.

Soon after opening his own practice, Otte was approached by an associate dean at IU to join the staff as an adjunct clinical lecturer, as the university needed help in its pediatric department.

Otte said he visits IU once per week and oversees 10 interns through the IU School of Optometry’s Pediatrics and Binocular Vision Clinic, and he helps the students in a variety of ways.

While in Jamaica, Otte said he saw 35 to 40 kids per day, and most days were chaotic.

He said there were some eye-opening experiences while abroad.

“It wasn’t so much from a health care standpoint. Culturally, what the conditions of the classrooms and facilities were like, there were so many kids in these open-air classrooms,” Otte said.

“Secondly, every day when we walked in, the first thing they did during the school day was focused on how to be a good citizen in the world,” he said. “I thought, from a cultural standpoint, that was pretty cool to see. I thought maybe that’s something we should be thinking about here.”

Otte said there was some anxiety going into the trip with the unknowns, but now, he hopes to make it an annual trip.

“Something I also like about that organization is that it isn’t just about going down every year and providing these services, but their long-term goal is to eventually make it so that there are more optometrists providing eye care in Jamaica so they won’t need us to come down and do these screenings,” he said.