Catholic Charities free clinic sees need for eye care

ByMartha R. Camara

May 2, 2022

Alexandra Luevano needed glasses. Optometrist Gregory Johnson, a non-denominational Christian who works at Virginia Vision Therapy, was looking for ways to volunteer. When Johnson learned that Luevano, his new patient, was the program director of the Catholic Charities Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic, he realized his prayers had been answered. “God did the rest,” Luevano said. Less than a year after Johnson and Luevano met, the Mother of Mercy clinic in Woodbridge began offering in-house eye care to the clinic’s patients.

On the morning of the opening, April 25, Johnson saw five patients, including William Brefo. Although he had long had problems with his eyes, it was difficult for him to receive medical treatment. “I’m very grateful because I haven’t had my eyes checked in a long time, over five years. I lost my insurance at work and I’m not working right now,” he said. “(Mother of Mercy helps) with my medications, my treatments, all my health problems. They are doing very well.

Ernesto Unias made an appointment because he had trouble reading. His wife Blanca Cortez also had vision problems and her eyes were burning. “(Being able to get eye care) is a blessing from God,” Cortez said. “God blesses the hearts (of doctors) so that they can treat the diseases that we have.”

Funding for new medical equipment, such as a refractor — the instrument patients look at to see an eye chart during vision tests — came from an unexpected source, Luevano said. “We applied for a grant (for general operating expenses) without thinking about eye care and they ended up giving us more money than we asked for, which was the perfect amount we needed,” said she declared. “All is God.”

With Johnson’s help, volunteer John Mallonee ordered the necessary equipment. Northern Virginia Family Service, a local nonprofit, will send pairs of glasses to patients who need them. While they hope more optometrists and ophthalmologists will volunteer, for now Johnson will be at the clinic one morning a month. Currently, there is a waiting list of more than 200 patients seeking eye care, Luevano said.

Through her work, Johnson has seen how much difference having healthy, functioning eyes makes in a person’s life. “A big part of how we see is how we think, and our emotions and our vision are very deeply connected,” he said. “So changing the way someone sees can really make or break their life.”

Luevano is grateful that Mother of Mercy can offer this new service to patients. “It’s such a blessing that God can do this through this clinic,” she said.