Opening the Eyes of Memphis, One Contact Lens at a Time

Last year when Jeanne Chen, a fourth-year intern at Southern College of Optometry, met her next contact lens patient, Jessica*, she hadn’t set out to change anyone’s life. Jessica had been born with strabismus, and despite multiple surgeries to help straighten her eyes, she had not developed depth perception or stereopsis. Seeing only 20/40 at best with glasses, Jessica was a shy high school freshman struggling with self-confidence.  As an added stress, her family had fallen on hard times financially, making any extra expense a burden.

By Amy Puerto, SCO

By Amy Puerto, SCO

Jeanne immediately saw a sight-enhancing opportunity for Jessica and enrolled her in the CooperVision Adopt-a PatientSM program. At her subsequent follow-ups Jessica had changed into a new person. Not only had the contact lenses improved Jessica’s vision, but her grades were better, she was making new friends, and as Jeanne remembers, “Her confidence was through the roof!” This was just one of many success stories SCO student interns have experienced when a young patient’s life has been completely transformed through the contact lenses received through the Adopt-a-Patient program.

CooperVision, which manufactures the Avaira®, Biofinity®, and Proclear® brand contact lenses, originally created the “Adopt-a-Patient” program in 2007. Since then, the program has expanded to 10 optometry schools nationwide.

Designed with the student clinician in mind, the Adopt-a-Patient program provides students an opportunity to do something special for deserving contact lens patients. Patients are fit with CooperVision soft contact lenses, receive a complimentary year’s supply of these contact lenses, and are followed by the same student clinicians.

Vision Service Plan (VSP) also helps subsidize the fitting costs. Patients may be fit with a variety of CooperVision contact lens types based on their lifestyle and visual needs, except those contact lenses with opaque or enhancing tints. This program allows student clinicians more opportunity to trial CooperVision’s diverse contact lens products.

Jane Pancurak ’14 says that when her 15-year-old patient found out she wouldn’t have to pay for her contact lenses for a year, she started to cry. Jane remembers the teenager “wishing she could meet the program’s sponsor and give them a big hug.” As student clinicians at SCO have seen, you can’t put a price tag on how grateful patients are for this program.

At SCO, the Adopt-A-Patient program has been an integral part of fourth year student rotations in the contact lens clinic in The Eye Center. By selecting patients with a demonstrated financial need, and who could benefit most from contact lenses, student clinicians have gained a greater respect for the humanitarian side of optometry. Even more, students are able to expand their management of challenging contact lens patients. Most often students are fitting patients with amblyopia, accommodative issues, cosmetic fits, and high powers or cylinder.

Priya Sheth ’14 recalls her patient encounter with an 8-year-old girl struggling with a significant amount of high hyperopia and having trouble in school. The young girl was tired and frustrated from being teased by her classmates for wearing “Coke bottle glasses.” It was more tempting to break her glasses than face the ridicule of her classmates. Yet, after being fit with contact lenses, the girl couldn’t have been happier. For the first time, the girl was free to express herself without the obstruction of her frames and lenses.

But just as the above cases have demonstrated, the Adopt-a-Patient program is much more than free contact lenses; it’s about improving lives. Take for example young athletes who are trying to excel in sports, but feel restricted by the functionality, lack of convenience, and safety limitations of glasses correction.

Gloria Wong ’14 and William Tantum ’14 both saw the advantages this program provided in restoring confidence and athleticism.  Gloria’s patient was having difficulty fitting in at school because he was taller than his classmates and wore glasses. Being fit into contact lenses gave him the needed self-esteem boost to try out for the high school basketball team and make it! Similarly in William’s experience, he saw the program “be a blessing for a lot of young guys trying to play at high levels of basketball, football, wrestling, etc. The freedom from a high Rx [and] bulky glasses was literally a game-changer.”

Since this program began at SCO in 2011, student clinicians have seen over 344 patients, and only 39 patients were discontinued from the program due to noncompliance during that time. Although this is an 11% noncompliance rate, it is well below the national average for all contact lens wearers according to an article written in the Review of Optometry. For this reason William also adds, “It was great that the program requires adherence to a strict accountability program by the patient and parents. It really boosted compliance with wear and care. [If a patient] stretched a lens beyond its prescribed lifespan, he or she would be discontinued from the program. It worked!”

The Adopt-a-Patient program is one way SCO has made its personal commitment to service leadership a reality. According to Dr. Daniel Fuller, SCO’s Chief of Contact Lens Services, the Adopt-a-Patient program has donated over $60,000 of care and materials back into the community since 2012. At SCO we take pride in our community, and welcome initiatives like CooperVision’s Adopt-a-Patient program to expand essential eye health and vision care in Memphis.

During my research writing this article, I saw a young, energetic 15-year-old boy with severe oculocutaneous albinism, having little success with his glasses. As he anticipates getting his driver’s license in the next year, he was motivated to try contact lenses for the first time, but discouraged by the cost.Recognizing the Adopt-a-Patient opportunity before me, I immediately referred Jose* to the contact lens clinic for adoption into the program.  He’s now scheduled for his first fitting, and by the time this article goes to print, I’m confident Jose will be relishing his newly acquired, glasses-free independence.

The Adopt-a-Patient program offers more than clinical experience for students, but the ability to impact patients in ways that can change their lives forever.  Students can see first-hand how compassionate care can make a difference in their patient’s lives. Which brings us back to Jessica’s story from the beginning of this article. Since being adopted into the program, Jeanne proudly reports that Jessica is still beaming with confidence, her vision is still better than ever, and she’s even enrolled in vision therapy to improve her binocularity. According to Jeanne, Jessica is “extremely motivated to make her eyes work, and I doubt she would have had the confidence to try [to improve her vision with VT] if she hadn’t received her contact lenses through the Adopt-a-Patient program.”

If you’re an optometry student or professor and want to get your school involved in CooperVision’s Adopt a PatientSM program, please email Mark Andre at

*Names in this article were changed to protect patient identity.

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