Youths will receive prosthetic eyes before attending Space Camp

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The official motto of tiny St. Lucia is, “The land, the people, the light.” Each year, specialists from the West Virginia University Eye Institute make the trek to the remote Caribbean island to bring light to the eyes of children with varying degrees of vision problems. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, two young patients will arrive at the Eye Institute to be fitted for prosthetic eyes, but they won’t be in Morgantown for long – a few days later, the pair will head to Huntsville, Ala., for an out-of-this-world Space Camp experience.

Nine-year-old Christy Joseph had both eyes removed because of retinoblastoma, a fast-developing cancer that affects the eye’s light-detecting tissue. Desir Monchery, 17, is missing one eye, lost to an injury. They’re two of about 150 children seen this year through the WVU Eye Institute’s Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Program (CVRP) St. Lucia outreach program.

“The geographical limitations are very similar to those we face in West Virginia, and we’re treating the same eye conditions,” Rebecca Coakley, director of the Children's Vision Rehabilitation Project, said. “Our ultimate goal is universal: to improve kids’ quality of life, independence and eventual employability.”

Originally established in 1996 to serve the children of West Virginia, CVRP is a need-based program serving school-aged, visually impaired kids regardless of their family’s ability to pay. Every year, WVU specialists treat about 100 children across the state with incurable vision loss through medical eye care, optical devices and assistive technology.

Ten CVRP outreach trips to St. Lucia have been completed since 1999, when a nurse from the island described a great need for these services in her country. This year’s efforts were led by Judie Charlton, M.D., Terry Schwartz, M.D., Rebecca Coakley, Dan Oates, Lenny Fink and D.J. Wheeler. WVU ophthalmologist Anthony Realini, M.D., and research coordinator Hilda Curtis travel to St. Lucia for glaucoma research and coordinated the visit. Approximately 50 eye surgeries and 100 pairs of glasses were provided to children in St. Lucia with low vision.

After receiving their new prosthetic eyes, Joseph and Monchery will participate in a week-long Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The St. Lucian campers will join others from 23 U.S. states, Ireland and Hungary Sept. 24-29, where all will be offered the same experiences as their fully sighted counterparts. Materials and technology are adapted to participants’ needs, and most are able to use the Space Camp’s motion and gravity simulators.

Dan Oates, coordinator of SCIVIS and outreach specialist for the West Virginia School for the Blind, said West Virginia was the first state to participate in the program.

“The math and science is an important part of SCIVIS, but the most powerful aspect is the campers’ ability to connect with other kids like themselves from all over the country and all over the world,” said Oates, a 2007 Space Camp Hall of Fame inductee. “It’s Space Camp’s favorite week.”

To learn more about the WVU Eye Institute, CVRP and the St. Lucia Outreach Program, visit

Attention reporters and editors: If you are interested in interviewing/photographing Christy Joseph and Desir Monchery or covering their prosthetic fittings, please call the HSC News Service in Morgantown at 304-293-7087 in advance.

For more information: Leigh Limerick, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
lal: 09-15-11