Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Douglas College awards highest honour to New Westminster eye doctor

By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

A New Westminster eye doctor who has provided free surgery and eyeglasses for thousands of needy people around the world has been selected as the recipient of Douglas College’s highest distinction – Honorary Fellowship.

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Neima has volunteered in Mexico, China, Vietnam, Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he has trained surgeons, helped equip clinics, performed free eye surgery and provided glasses to people in need.

He also monitors and raises funds for eye camps in India, where more than 45,000 cataract surgeries have been performed. For the past 12 years, he has run free eye screening clinics at Sikh temples in the Lower Mainland for new immigrants.

“They could go to an eye doctor, but they don't feel comfortable,” Neima says. “Their English is poor and they don't have translators. But there are translators at the temples, so we do the screening clinics there.”

Neima came to New Westminster from his native Nova Scotia in 1986 and soon joined the Rotary Club, through which he has done much of his humanitarian work. During his tenure as president, 1987-1988, he raised funds for scholarships for Douglas College nursing students and students in need.

When Douglas launched its Dispensing Optician program in the mid ‘90s, he went to Mexico with the coordinator, Tony Viani, to give free eye clinics, which led to providing free, donated eyeglasses to patients.

For the past 12 years, Neima has been working with the Dispensing Optician program to provide eye care and glasses to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He still travels to Vietnam once or twice a year, where he has trained 30 surgeons, set up training programs and arranges cataract surgeries.

“We go to the countryside and try as hard as we can to work on the people who are really poor,” Neima says. “The problem in many of these countries is they have enough doctors, but access to health care is a problem because of poverty.”

Scott McAlpine, president of Douglas College, says Neima’s contributions make him a natural choice for Honorary Fellow.

“Becoming an ophthalmologist is an achievement in itself. But becoming an ophthalmologist who leaves the comforts of home and travels to some of the poorest places in the world to give help and hope to people in need makes Dr. Neima a truly remarkable individual.”

Paul Wates, chair of the Douglas College Board, says Neima is the type of role model who inspires people to look beyond their own needs and focus on the greater good.

“Giving back to society and the world at large is a quality we encourage in our students. Dr. Neima embodies this quality – and then some. He is a true inspiration and we are thrilled to welcome him as our 2012 Honorary Fellow.”