Local optometrist goes to Haiti to provide eye care

As a child, Dr. Michael Satryan knew he wanted to help people.

“I always wanted to be in the medical field, either optometry or general medicine. I always thought helping people looked enticing. I started wearing glasses at 7, so I had a lot of exposure to eye care,” Satryan said.

Satryan, a partner in Mountain View Eye Associates, Altoona, recently went with a group called VOSH – Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity – to Haiti to help provide eye care.

It was his third trip to Haiti. He went in 1984 while attending the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and also went last year.

Satryan was one of four doctors in a group of 12, which included technicians and surgeons, who visited Haiti in March.

During five days in Haiti, the group saw 1,076 patients – including 289 in one day. A total of 39 surgeries were completed that week, 36 of which were for cataracts, Satryan said.

“It was set up like an assembly line; each doctor checked for different things,” Satryan said.

“We were as thorough as we could possibly be. We gave them a full exam, and everybody got sunglasses,” said Leah Stoehr, a Mountain View Eye Associates optician who accompanied Satryan on the trip.

Cataracts are prevalent in Haiti because of the constant exposure to the sun, and many people are affected by an infectious disease called traucoma that can cause blindness if not treated properly, Satryan said.

Satryan grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Penn Hills High School and the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in biology.

He graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1984.

While there, he received the Skeffington Award for outstanding student in pediatric optometry and the Alumni Award for academic excellence.

He came to Altoona in 1984 and purchased a practice from Dr. Dave Maurer. He started his practice – Keystone Eye Care Center – near Mansion Park and then built a new building at Seventh Street and Valley View Boulevard.

He ran his practice until 1998 when he and Dr. Fred Petrunak merged their practices and founded Mountain View Eye Associates.

“Running a business by yourself can be fatiguing, and we thought together we could do better than each of us individually. We thought we could provide better care, service and hours,” Satryan said.

In addition to his volunteer work in Haiti, Satryan is involved with several other local organizations.

He is a past president of the Rotary Club of Hollidaysburg and is a former board member of the Blair County Association for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. He is active in Zion Lutheran Church, where he has been council president and currently serves on the youth board. He is now in his sixth year serving on the board of directors of Camp Sequanota in Jennerstown.

“I was president of the Hollidaysburg Area High School Music Parents in 2008 when my daughter graduated,” Satryan said.

Helping people is important to him.

“God has blessed me with a wonderful family and health and with a desire to give back to others. It is good for the soul and good for humanity that we are here to help each other,” Satryan said.

“As much as we give, you get back 10-fold. The feeling you get from helping people who have no way to help you is priceless,” he said.

Stoehr describes Satryan as an honest, powerful and inspiring man.

“He has opened so many doors for me with volunteer work. He is very caring. He inspired me to embark on a medical career,” said Stoehr, who will be attending Mount Aloysius College to study to be a surgical technician.

Satryan said his father, Tom, is his role model.

“By example, he showed me to how to be a man that puts God first, family second, and gives of himself to others,” Satryan said.

For fun, Satryan attends University of Pittsburgh football and basketball games and visits his daughters in Philadelphia and Hoboken, N.J.

He and his wife, Marcia, love to travel.

“The world is full of places. We try to go somewhere new. It is fun,” he said. “When you go to Haiti, you are not staying at a five-star hotel. It is like going to a church camp. You are with a group of like-minded people, and you bond with each other and have a good time.”

He has enjoyed trips to Alaska and Europe.

“We went to Alaska two years ago and while on a natural preserve, walked around where the grizzly bears were. We walked within 5 yards of them. They know you are there and don’t perceive you as a threat,” Satryan said. “I’ve had a chance to travel to places in Europe. My favorite place was the Olympia in Greece where the original Olympics were held.”

Satryan said he hopes to make the visit to Haiti an annual event.

“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is 70 percent unemployment, and the average wage is $4 to $6 per day. We have a special affinity for the Haitian people and a love for them. We are called to help the poor and downtrodden,” Satryan said.

Stoehr also hopes to return.

“It was inspiring,” she said. “I fell in love with Haiti. They have the same core values that we do.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.