LA CROSSE, Wis. - This is a tale of two doctors. They don't work in the same office. Don't even practice the same type of medicine. But they share a unique bond because of one mission and one extraordinary woman.
First, some background. Doctor Steven LaLiberte is an optometrist at Franciscan Skemp Healthcare in La Crosse. Every two years, he and 29 other volunteers embark on a mission trip to Lima, Peru. They travel there with thousands of donated, used and recycled eyeglasses to help the people of that community see the world a little better. "A donated pair of glasses that seems insignificant to the donor can make a big difference in a poor country. We come from one of the wealthiest countries the world going to one of the most impoverished. And every trip we learn a lesson about giving and sacrifice from the people we went to serve."
Many of these patients have spent their whole lives in a blur, unable to see what is right in front of them. "There was a 2-year-old child on the last mission who had a very strong prescription. They thought the child was blind and they put the glasses on him and his mother said something to him like 'can you see me?' The child just stared at his mother's face and he reached up and touched her cheek. There are so many stories just like that of people who are now able to see."
But as we mentioned earlier, there is a second doctor involved in this story. Franciscan Skemp Medical Director Dr. Alan Fleischmann has never actually been on the mission trips to Lima, Peru - but part of his heart still lingers there. You see Dr. Fleischmann has had one great love in his life: his late wife Vanessa. "We met in 1977. The first time I saw her I fell madly in love and knew she had to be mine. She didn't quite decide that at the same time but it didn't take us long. We were about 6 months and married in 9."
In 1982 Vanessa was diagnosed with MS. Over the next 28 years her body slowly and gradually gave way to the symptoms of that disease. "But the amazing thing about here was it was never apparent by her behavior. And she succeeded in rising above it. Really to an extraordinary degree."
This last November, Vanessa passed away after a long and brave battle but she left behind 3 pairs of glasses. "When Nessa passed I wanted him to be able to use her glasses to the advantage of someone else. It's just a lovely idea that something like glasses that helped her because her vision was impaired by this condition could help someone else after her passing."
So Dr. Fleischmann gave the glasses to Dr. LaLiberte for his latest mission trip. But instead of putting them with the other 11 thousand pairs that were donated, Dr. La Liberte set them aside. And when the right patients came along with the exact prescription as Vanessa's, those glasses and a part of her amazing legacy were passed along. "At least once we tracked them and reminded me to really realize the personal side of what we are doing. It brings it back home for us too."
"It's just lovely for her to be living on in this way. I would encourage anyone that might have glasses, even if they might not be fashionable. If you haven't got glasses, it doesn't matter what they look like. I think that would be a thing to do for us all and I will look to see if I have some more old ones to share because I think that it's important."
"Here's someone who donated 3 pair of glasses and we show 3 people who received them. That story could be repeated 10 thousand times over every single week. It could change a life somewhere."
The Eye Glass Recycling Program is put on by the Wisconsin Lions Club Foundation. If you have glasses that you would like to donate, drop them off to any optical office in the area and the Lions Club will pick them up and make sure they get to someone that can really use them.