Feature Writer Jane Kronheim – Five Years Worth of Effort at the Scheppens Eye Research Institute in Boston, Part One

In the late 80s and early 90s I had an opportunity to work at SERI or the Scheppens Eye Research Institute, located in Boston. After meeting many of the amazing eye doctors there, I was invited to come and visit weekly when children came to the clinic on what was referred to as “baby day.” At first I made the acquaintance of Dr.Tatsuo Hirose, the renowned retina specialist who attempted to repair the retinas of infants who had been born extremely premature. I also met another pediatric ophthalmologist by the name of Osamu Katsumi who had developed a top notch children’s low vision clinic. I could tell that this would be an amazing experience for me, an educator in the field of blindness and visual impairment. So, for 18 months I would show up on “baby day” to follow the doctors around during their many appointments with families from all over the world.

I remember how I rearranged my entire weekly schedule so that I could come to this amazing place. During those first 18 months I volunteered my efforts as I was asked to communicate with many families regarding the educational programs that often did not exist in their home countries. I learned that in many lands there were no preschool programs for the children. There was nothing called early intervention which we have available throughout the United States.

After that first 18 month of volunteering I eventually was offered a daily stipend for my time at the children’s low vision clinic. This was a fantastic experience for me as an educator in that rarely were teachers present in the clinics of eye doctors, where they could advise and counsel families as well as help to train the future eye care practitioners from other countries. Most of my time was spent as a clinical research assistant to Dr. Osamu Katsumi where the parents and the blind and severely visually impaired children would come for vision assessment. One of the most immediate needs I could see was the translation of an information form which addressed the functional visual abilities of the children in their home environments.

The information we were seeking was basic but very important such as: Does your child look out the window? Does your child look at and visually follow the family pet around the house? Does your child show any interest in the TV? There were many other questions that became increasingly detailed and I could often tell that our international families did not know how to respond. I went searching for assistance. One of our German translators helped completely convert the sheet of questions for the many German families who arrived. But I was at a loss to locate many other individuals who could help out.

One day I had a real brainstorm. I asked Dr. Katsumi if he thought that our doctors who came for training from all over the world would be interested in helping out. And they did!!! We obtained translations in Spanish, French, Serbo-Croatian, Japanese, and in Italian to name a few. This was a pivotal moment in the critical area of communication with families. Once the families could read these questions in their native tongues, it was far easier to get “yes” or “no” responses fairly quickly. When we completed these question and answer sessions, the real work began.

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