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Children in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan – one of the most powerful storms on record – gather with Dr. Maxwell Cheng, who gave them their first eye exam.

David Lawrence Community Service Awards: Maxwell Cheng, OD

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For more than a decade, the David Lawrence Community Service Award has recognized Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians throughout our regions who champion outstanding volunteer activities and initiatives to improve the health of our communities. The annual award is named in honor of David M. Lawrence, MD, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals and a lifelong advocate for improving community health.

Two awardees are selected annually in each region for their significant contributions to improving the overall health of a community or population. Their commitments are focused on health and social issues, including increasing access to health care for the underserved, eliminating disparities in health outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities, and addressing the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age that can impact their health.

The 2017 Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region winners are Maxwell Cheng, OD, and the Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Subgroup of InterFACE. They will each receive a $10,000 charitable contribution from Kaiser Permanente to the nonprofit organization of their choice.

Dr. Cheng gives some children in Jamaica their first eye exam – and takes the children’s first selfie.

Maxwell Cheng, OD, shares his skills and inspires others to provide impoverished communities with high-quality eye care.

While many of us take for granted the ability to go to the doctor when we are ill or need treatment, about 90 percent of the world’s population lacks access to seeing an eye doctor.

Maxwell Cheng, OD, an optometrist at the Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, is working hard to change that.

For more than seven years, Dr. Cheng has helped develop and led more than 25 medical missions to Peru, the Philippines, Nepal, Mexico, and Jamaica. He has also collaborated with the Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians to coordinate health fairs that provide medical and eye care services to the diverse homeless population on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. 

“Knowing that I have the ability as a doctor to help such large numbers of people in a profound way, I feel a responsibility to share my skills and experience,” said Dr. Cheng, who uses five weeks of his personal vacation time a year to complete the humanitarian trips. 

Whether Dr. Cheng is performing free eye exams or organizing cataract surgeries to restore sight, assisting victims of natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, or teaching seminars on eye care locally and internationally, his efforts are making a tremendous difference.

He has provided life-changing eye care to thousands of patients living in poverty around the world. For many impoverished families who must choose between eating and buying glasses and medications, the medical mission may be the only place where they can obtain treatment.

Dr. Maxwell Cheng greets a couple in Peru, who received their first pair of glasses and sunglasses from him. Dr. Cheng is building the capacity of other optometrists and individuals in the countries he visits to continue his work well into the future. He offers educational support, serves as a consultant, and shares best practices to support optometrists, ophthalmologists, ophthalmic assistants, students, and other volunteers on how to improve treatment and conduct effective medical missions.

In areas with few eye doctors, Dr. Cheng often spends many hours educating politicians, physicians, and communities about the importance of expert eye care. In Jamaica, for example, many residents are unaware of the extremely high incidence of glaucoma, a disease that will lead to blindness if not diagnosed early and treated.

Dr. Cheng’s work has been well recognized. In addition to media attention in the countries he visits, other recent accolades include:

  • Alliance of Jamaican and American Humanitarians Honoree of the Year 2015
  • Kaiser Permanente Southern California Optometrist of the Year 2016
  • Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Community Star 2017

“If people can see, they can be independent and have more options in life, no matter their ethnic group, socioeconomic class, education level, or where they live or work,” said Dr. Cheng. “Through my humanitarian work, I feel fortunate to be able to help many people lead healthier and more productive, fulfilling lives and to inspire others to get involved.” 

Read the story of another awardee: Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Subgroup of InterFACE