Bristol optometrist named Humanitarian of the Year
Dr. Carl Sakovits made his first trip to impoverished Honduras in 1987, during his third year of optometry school.
He, along with a few fellow students, were on a mission to bring proper eye care to those who couldn't afford it, let alone much of anything else.
That experience changed Dr. Sakovits, and helped shape his future.
"It's certainly influenced my life, not only in my professional setting, but the way I do things and how I've raised my children," said Dr. Sakovits, who runs Bristol County Eye Care based at the Bristol County Medical Center on Hope Street.
Over the past 26, Dr. Sakovits lead mission trips to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, bringing medical, dental and eye care to those who needed it. His trips are done through VOSH/International - Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. The organization was in its infancy when Dr. Sakovits joined as a college student. He later formed the Northeast VOSH chapter and currently serves as its president.
Currently, there are chapters all over the United States, as well as Peru, Canada, the Netherlands, Honduras and Puerto Rico.
"The beauty of what we do is that we're not only helping patients, but we're helping the 55-to-70 volunteers who we bring down with us," Dr. Sakovits said. "Students get hooked on the idea of helping people, and we're exposing them to the idea of volunteerism. Kids will often change their major or focus in school because of their experience."
To honor his dedication and service, VOSH/International has bestowed the Humanitarian of the Year award to Dr. Sakovits. The award is given to VOSH members who have distinguished themselves through leadership, invention and public health practice. Dr. Sakovits will travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico in October to receive the award.
"His commitment at the highest level has served thousands of disenfranchised populations in Central America and now in American communities where unsurprisingly you find extreme poverty," said Dr. Harry Zeltzer, executive director of VOSH.
"In his early years in the practice of optometry it was a hardship to leave a practice for two weeks and pay your own way to help mankind," Dr. Zeltzer said. "For him it
became a way of life him to organize, lead and provide health care unfailingly and consistently."
Some critics of overseas mission trips question why the focus isn't on poverty in America. To that, Dr. Sakovits explained "out-of-state medical licenses aren't often honored, making it more difficult to go to impoverished areas in the United States and offer assistance."
Tennessee is one state that does welcome visiting doctors, Dr. Sakovits said, and therefore VOSH has begun yearly trips to the state to provide proper medical care to those who can't afford it.
"We are trying to do more domestically," he said. "A lot of people are falling through the cracks because of the recession."