YKHC’s Optometry doctor, Wesley Charlton, is originally from Richland, Washington. He is the father of nine children (five children/four step-children). Dr. Charlton has an extensive work history as a retired Commission Corps officer with the Indian Health Service (IHS), having worked in the Norton Sound region of Alaska as well as in IHS facilities in Montana and Arizona. His own daughter, Jackie Lesniak, credits her step-father for encouraging her to pursue the optometry field.
He says he has seen patients in every Y.K Delta village, including Lime Village and Oscarville, and says the only two villages he has not yet visited are Chuathbaluk and both Lower and Upper Kalskag. For recreation he enjoys sports, attending local sporting events, and going to the Zoomba exercise classes. “I think I’m the oldest person there.” he says.
Dr. Charlton first visited Bethel as a locum working on an off before he signed on permanently in May of 2003. Before pursuing his career in optometry, the first job he ever had was picking fruit in the Richland/Yakima Valley of Washington state. Familiar with being a minority among minorities, he said the Immigration & Naturalization Service once visited the fields where he was working with many undocumented Mexicans and “naturally, I was the last one in the field standing and harvesting.”
Early on, Wes had an appreciation for working in rural and impoverished regions. “I especially appreciate the field I work in because it is a helping profession. Most of our patients like eye exams, plus there is a lot of need in rural Alaska and there are some unusual diseases which make it more challenging.”
Wes likes to travel, but “the cost of travel has increased tremendously, and the economic challenge that it poses is difficult for our patients.” He said this with much compassion, as cost and distance can often prohibit people from getting routine or necessary preventative check ups.
Also he said, “there are more people now, for whatever reason, who wear glasses than 40 years ago.” He mentioned that near-sightedness is more common in developed countries, such as the U.S., where more people are able to read, and agrees that perhaps the use of computers, smartphones, and tablets may contribute to that. In third world countries, where literacy rates are lower, near sightedness is not as frequent.
Advice for maintaining “eye health”…
Wear safety glasses when chopping wood, goggles when snow-machining. Everyone seems to know about snow blindness, so we encourage sun protection. We have a lot of patients who may be candidates for glaucoma; it’s important to keep appointments and be monitored closely. People with diabetes should have an eye exam once a year. Taking breaks on your eyes is important, especially for children playing video games and such.
“Overall, I am very impressed with how well YKHC executes its [mission] despite the challenging environment. I mean, just the two major river systems to keep all under one hat is impressive. We have a big show, a big area, and it has done well over the last 40 years. I’ve been here long enough to know that aboriginal groups from other countries have come to Bethel to see YKHC operations, and this global attention is significant because of YKHC’s achievements. It’s amazing how well the system works despite the challenges.