Psych Student Restores Sight to Blind on Medical Mission Trip

In hopes of becoming an ophthalmologist like his father, Jerry D'Aversa ’14 traveled to Grenada to assist with sight-restoring surgeries.

Jerry D'Aversa & Dr. D'AdversaJerry D’Aversa ’14, a psychology major and chemistry minor at Manhattan College, didn’t have much time to see Grenada’s sparkling blue waters or sandy white beaches during winter break. But he made sure others would be able to.

For a week in January, he and his father, Gerard D’Aversa, M.D., an ophthalmologist with Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island (OCLI), performed cataract surgeries and corneal transplants on visually impaired locals, many of whom had gone blind over time without access to adequate healthcare.

The D’Aversas’ medical mission trip was sponsored by a grant from the Department of Ophthalmology at St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada.

“I jumped on the opportunity to go,” says D’Aversa, who started working as a file clerk and technician at OCLI as a teenager. “It’s hard for my father to drop everything and leave in his profession, but it’s safe to say that we made a lasting impression on the community there.”

Hands-on in the OR

D’Aversa, his father and an accompanying technician from Island Eye Surgicenter on Long Island, took an 8 a.m. bus each day from their living quarters in St. George’s to the public hospital in Grenada.

Toting six suitcases of medical supplies and nine pairs of fragile corneal transplants donated by the Long Island Eye Bank, the three worked tedious 10-hour days, restoring sight to 30 patients in total.

“Jerry impressed me to no end. He did what was required in an environment where we didn’t know what to expect,” says Gerard D’Aversa. “He wore many hats and had to make rapid-fire decisions. He’s a very quick learner.”

The most amazing part of the trip was the patients who’d come back post-op and were so happy and so grateful.

Working in the operating room for the first time, D’Aversa helped prep patients, check prescriptions and hand off surgical instruments to his father. The incredible hands-on experience has helped solidify his decision to become an eye doctor, he says, and he hopes to take the Optometry Admission Test this fall and start at SUNY College of Optometry the following year.

“Your sight is such an important sense and is essential to living a happy life,” D’Aversa says. “The most amazing part of the trip was the patients who’d come back post-op and were so happy and so grateful.”

Sights Set on Service

Helping others to be happy has always been a way of life for this Jasper.

After Hurricane Katrina, D’Aversa traveled to Mississippi to rebuild houses, and when tragedy hit home on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy, he was on call again, helping the victims whose communities were destroyed.

For years, D’Aversa and his sister Jackie have also helped run Kids Care, a group that provides backpacks, school supplies and Christmas gifts to foster children.

At Manhattan College, the ambitious junior is balancing his volunteer work with classes and a research project moderated by Jay Friedenberg, Ph.D., chair of the psychology department.

The pair, along with D’Aversa’s roommate and friend Chris Rypl ’13, are manipulating different shapes and analyzing how the changes affect visual perceptions and attraction — an intersection that combines D’Aversa’s passions for psychology and science.

“Jerry is very disciplined, courteous and serious about what he does,” Friedenberg says. “He’s a good student, and I can really see him going places.”

Now, the people of Grenada can see it, too.

Photo by Joshua Yetman, St. George's University