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Through Volunteerism, a Bristol Doctor Sees a Better World

A local doctor volunteers his expertise overseas

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"It started out as kind of an adventure. It became a way of life.” Dr. Carl Sakovits, optometrist, has organized trips overseas for more than two decades. His goal is to help those who would be unlikely to receive sufficient medical care touches many lives. For years, he has organized a trip with NEVOSH (Northeast Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity), which expanded beyond vision care. In their latest trip to Panama in mid–January of this year, the NEVOSH team saw nearly 4,000 people, offering free vision care, hearing aids, dental and medical care. Although VOSH began with eye care, Dr. Sakovits has invited other professionals to join the team. “It’s all about doing what you can do, basically, and you can’t just stop at the eyes.” Volunteers pay their own travel and living expenses while overseas.

Dr. Sakovits first became involved with a VOSH chapter from Maryland as an optometry student at the State University of New York in his junior year of college. Wanting to do something fun and out of the ordinary, he and two classmates decided to travel to Honduras and put their new skills to good use. He traveled again in his senior year of college, and helped found a VOSH student chapter at the school that is still active with NEVOSH today. After graduation, Dr. Sakovits set up a private practice in Bristol, where he has worked for 23 years. He continued his involvement with Maryland VOSH over the decades, becoming increasingly involved in the group he now leads. Around 1994, he renamed the chapter Northeast VOSH to better reflect the area it covers.

VOSH international named Dr. Sakovits Humanitarian of the Year in 2013. “The last guy who got it was from Australia. All I can say is I’m hoping I can grow into it. It was an honor, it was huge, it was humbling.” NEVOSH has traveled to several different locations over the years, including El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. The group has sometimes dealt with a lack of basic amenities, but the ability to make a difference overcame any lack of indoor plumbing or electricity. “In some cases, kids thought to be mentally challenged came out of a fog; they can see.” He says they have worked with people who have known others who have gone blind and fear for their own vision, and a simple pair of reading glasses brings their world back into focus.

NEVOSH started out with a small team of just a few individuals, and now sends out between 50 to 70 volunteers each January. Over the years, they have given out 225 brand new wheelchairs. “I’ve seen young children come in, carried in a burlap bag or wheelbarrow and come out with a wheelchair.” Dr. Sakovits says a wheelchair often opens up the opportunity for a child to attend school.

Occasionally, the team has been able to help arrange more extensive care, such as surgery. “You just can’t imagine the cruel conditions some are suffering with, and we do everything in our power to help.”

Want to help? Donations can be made through VOSH international here; specify NEVOSH at the time of donation. All donations to the group go only for supplies and equipment to bring on site. Used eyeglasses in good condition are always welcome and can be donated to Bristol County Eye Care at the Bristol Medical Center.