Mississippi doctor of optometry honored with 2021 InfantSEE® Award
It was 2004 and Sarah Fratesi, O.D., just a year after graduating from Southern College of Optometry, was attending a conference where former President Jimmy Carter was giving the keynote address and voiced support for children’s eye health and vision care.
The former president spoke that day about his and Rosalynn Carter’s 11 grandchildren, two of whom had first entered school before learning they had undiagnosed amblyopia. And he delivered a powerful challenge to eye doctors in attendance—what could they do to prevent children from starting, and struggling, in school with undiagnosed vision problems as his grandchildren did?
Dr. Fratesi, who was in the audience that day, was honored recently by the AOA InfantSEE® and Children’s Vision Committee with its 2021 Dr. W. David Sullins Jr. InfantSEE Award.
"Only 30% (of U.S. children) under the age of six years have an eye exam, and, of those, only one-third have an eye exam from an eye care professional,” Carter told the audience. “If you multiply one-third by 30%, you get 10%. So, what has been happening to the other 90%?
“They go to elementary school and into the first grade without an eye exam, an examination of their most precious physical possession—their eye—from a specialist,” said Carter, who later became an honorary spokesperson for InfantSEE (which had been preceded by Operation Bright Start years before).
Carter’s challenge, similar to one he issued in 2002 to doctors of optometry at an AOA Congress, made an impression on Dr. Fratesi.
“Sitting in the audience that day, I remember thinking if a former president’s grandchildren didn’t get the intervention they needed, what are other children supposed to do?” she recalls. “For me, InfantSEE was the right thing to do. Something that I was trained to do so I could contribute to and be able to make a difference.”
Making an impression
The next year, Dr. Fratesi joined InfantSEE and has devoted herself to raising awareness in many ways about the program in her community ever since. For more than a decade, she has staffed an InfantSEE booth at the county hospital’s maternity fair. She has built a referral relationship with a local pediatric clinic. She also has been interviewed for newspaper and radio, as well as promoted the program to her own patients via pamphlets, social media and a newsletter. For the past 12 years, Dr. Fratesi has served as co-chair of the Mississippi Optometric Association’s Children’s Vision Committee. She was part of a team that developed materials for school nurses explaining the difference between vision screenings and comprehensive eye exams, as well as listing signs of classroom behaviors that might indicate a vision system problem.
To think, her 16-year involvement with InfantSEE, and the professional fulfillment she finds in caring for children, all started with Carter’s challenge.
“You can literally change the course of a child’s life if you are able to detect any issues they might have as an infant,” she says.
The Dr. W. David Sullins Jr. InfantSEE Award annually recognizes a doctor of optometry who makes a significant contribution in the profession or their communities through the InfantSEE program. A public health program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, InfantSEE works to ensure eye and vision care become an integral part of infant wellness care and improves a child's quality of life. Since its inception in 2005, InfantSEE and its nearly 4,000 volunteer doctors of optometry have provided no-cost, comprehensive eye and vision assessments to more than 150,000 infants.
Dr. Fratesi, who has led her state in InfantSEE exams since 2013, will be honored June 25 with other AOA award winners at Optometry's Meeting® in Denver, Colorado.