On May 19th 2012 5 blinded US Combat Veterans traveled across the Atlantic to visit a British blind center known as, "Blind Veterans UK" formerly St. Dunstans. I was one of the five veterans participating in this exchange program known as "Project Gemini". Below I plan to paste in the press release that explains the reason for our trip, but before you read that, I would like to briefly summarize my experience near the English Channel and the 5 amazing British veterans I met...
First of all, I would like to say that this was a great experience and that I feel very honored and grateful to have been chosen for such an exchange program, offered by the BVA "Blinded Veterans Association".
The flight over to London was great, just over 7 hours if i'm not mistaken and friendly flight attendants who supplied me food and drinks from the first class cabin, since I was seated in economy. I was presented a bottle of wine when leaving the aircraft, talk about great service. My escort who helped me off the plane had a great British accent, kind of sounded something like Austin Powers. The escort walked me down to arrivals and I met with some of our British friends, who were going to help us over to Blind Veterans UK near Brighton and the English Channel.
During the whole week in the United Kingdom we visited pubs, The Tower of London, drove by and toured prominent London landmarks and buildings, walked through a massive castle, participated in a scavenger hunt in a small England village, shot rifles, archery, toured the BVUK Blind Center, played a couple of rounds of bowling, visited a hospital and listened to medical professionals and researchers, walked aboard a 17th century ship at Port Smith...
but the best part of the trip was meeting with the British blinded combat veterans. each one of them had an amazing story of survival and resilience. One of these British veterans Billy Baxter, has a website: http://www.blindbaxter.com/
The trip taught me so much about how British blind veterans are cared for in the United Kingdom and how similar their attitudes are when dealing with traumatic injuries.
The British vets, Billy, William, Darren, Ken, Simon and Colin truly took care of us and showed us a great time.
Follow the below link to read more about BVUK:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2125192/Blind-Veterans-UKs-state-art-centre-supporting-blind-ex-servicemen-women.html
BRITISH AND AMERICAN BLINDED VETERANS TO VISIT MOORFIELDS
A delegation of American and British veterans who have lost their sight and then become role models for others living with blindness will meet with renowned ophthalmology experts during a May 21 visit to Moorefields Eye Hospital National Health Service Foundation in London.
Moorfields is the oldest and largest eye hospital in the world and is internationally recognized for its comprehensive clinical and research activities. The hospital is a major international tertiary care and training center in ophthalmology. More than half of all ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom have received specialist training at the hospital.
Dr. Peng Tee Khaw, Director of Research and Development at the hospital and recently elected President of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, will greet the blinded veterans. British Wing Commander Robert Scott, now Britain’s Defense Consultant Advisor in Ophthalmology, will also be present for the meeting. They will be joined by well-known neuro-ophthalmologist Lt. Colonel Andrew Jacks, M.D. and Tracy de Bernhardt Dunkin, Principal and Chief Executive of West of England School and College. The latter provides vision rehabilitation services to British blind students.
The visit is part of a larger joint initiative known as Project Gemini, began in 2011 by Blind Veterans UK and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), with headquarters in Washington, DC. In late May of last year, six American blinded veterans, four of them blinded in recent combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), traveled across the Atlantic Ocean for a six-day educational exchange to share knowledge, insights, and friendship with their British comrades at St. Dunstan’s which has changed its name to Blind Veterans UK. The British invited four Army OIF veterans, for a similar experience this year, Making the Transatlantic journey are Operation Iraqi Freedom blinded veterans; Army Specialist Steve Baskis, Captain Tim Hornik, Sgt Mark Schrand, and Ssgt Dexter Durrente, will be the participating in the 2nd Project Gemini.
BVA Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri, who is legally blind Army veteran, will accompany the veterans. They will be joined by Col. Donald Gagliano, M.D., current Director of the joint Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Vision Center of Excellence (VCE). Gagliano is an active-duty service member of 32 years. Also invited is Bobbi Hillen, VCE Associate Director of Rehabilitation and Reintegration representing the VA Central Office at the Center; and James Jorkasky, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR).
The exchange will again feature discussions about blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research, and adaptive technology for the blind. The two groups will tour London, visit the Imperial War Museum, practice with air rifles, and engage in blind archery.
During the experience, the veterans will share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of the adjustment processes. They will compare the British veterans’ health care system with that of the American system operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and its dozens of component medical centers, outpatient clinics, and veterans’ homes throughout the country.
Project Gemini is an outgrowth of Operation Peer Support, a BVA program begun in 2006 that brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in Vietnam, Korea, or during World War II. The objective of the program is to provide veterans who have lost their sight recently with opportunities to interact with men and women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness and who can serve as role models and mentors.
Following British ophthalmology staff meeting with Project Gemini on Monday, May 21st at Moorefield Hospital in London:
Dr. Peng Tee Khaw
Dr. Peng Tee Khaw, Director of Research and Development at Moorfields Eye Hospital National Health Service Foundation Trust, was recently elected President of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). Dr. Khaw took office on May 9 in Florida at the annual ARVO meeting. ARVO is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world, including more than 12,500 eye and vision researchers from over 80 countries. The Association encourages and assists research, training, publication and knowledge-sharing in vision and ophthalmology.
Dr. Khaw has been an ARVO member since 1990 and has served as a member and chair of the Glaucoma Section Program Committee. He has won several international prizes, including the first ARVO Pfizer Translational Award. He is well placed to take on this position, with a long academic track record having published more than 350 papers, chapters, and books, including The ABC of Eyes, the most popular ophthalmology book in the UK for General Practitioners and medical students. He has helped in the fundraising of more than British £50million for research and new facilities. Dr. Khaw’s teaching specialties at Moorfields include glaucoma, ocular healing, and consultant ophthalmic surgery. He is a director of the National Institute for Health Biomedical Research Centre for Ophthalmology and the program director for the eyes and vision theme of University College London Partners, one of the UK’s first academic health science centers. He is also a Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences; Royal College of Ophthalmologists; Royal College of Surgeons; Society of Biology; Royal College of Physicians; Royal College of Pathologists, as well as Senior Investigator of the UK National Institute of Health Research. His research interests include wound healing, glaucoma surgery, stem cells, and optic nerve regeneration.
DR. ROBERT SCOTT
British Wing Commander Dr. Robert Scott is the United Kingdom’s Defense Consultant Adviser in Ophthalmology. He graduated from the United Medical and Dental Schools, St. Thomas’s Hospital Campus, London, in 1987. His Ophthalmology training was initially at Cambridge University and the RAF Hospitals at Ely and Halton with higher surgical training at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, London. His subspecialty training is in vitreoretinal surgery. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and has a Postgraduate Doctorate in ocular wound healing from the University of Nottingham Medical School.
Dr. Scott’s first Consultant post was at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, Edinburgh, in 1999. He transferred to the Royal Centre for Defense Medicine, Birmingham, in September 2000. He was appointed as Honorary Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology at the University of Birmingham in 2001 and Senior Lecturer in Military Surgery in 2008. His current research is vitreoretinal surgery, microincision cataract surgery, metabolomics of eye disease, the management of eye disorders of Military personnel, and PCR diagnosis of ocular lymphoma. He is married with three children and keeps himself busy outside of work with golf, jogging, and flying. He is currently constructing a sports car.
DR. ANDREW JACKS
Lt. Colonel Andrew Jacks, M.D. is a well known neuro-ophthalmologist who trained at Moorefields. He now works as an Ophthalmologist in the Defense Health Service at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, providing specialized neuro-ophthalmic trauma care in a 30-bed trauma unit for British deployed service members returning with eye trauma. Dr. Jacks is also a well-known author and ophthalmology researcher. He has received numerous special awards for his research.
TRACY DE BERNHARDT DUNKIN
Tracy de Bernhardt Dunkin is the Principal and Chief Executive of the Exeter West of England School and College. The Exeter school provides vision rehabilitation services to British blind students. Tracy has collaborated with Dr. Greg Goodrich, researcher at the VA Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, California, on research relating to Traumatic Brain Injury and vision system dysfunction that commonly occur in service members exposed to blasts—and in children that have suffered brain injury. Pupils at the West of England are encouraged to use their functional sight as much as possible while teachers attempt to inspire them with the confidence to do so. Teachers at the school are all trained in "visual awareness" in order to effectively adapt lessons.
CHARTERED BY THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION
477 H STREET NORTHWEST • WASHINGTON DC 20001-2694 • (202) 371-8880