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Mitchell Helps People See God’s Creation

By Nancy Rosebush Schertzing | Photography by Jim Luning

Mitchell Helps People See God’s Creation

Free Eye Clinic Is a ‘True Labor of Love’

“Anyone who knows me knows I am committed to a respect for life.”

Dr. Mitchell Dobrzelewski explains why he treats patients of Care Free Medical Services in Lansing. “Caring for the needs of others – tending to their corporal needs – is part of that culture of life. I happen to be in eye care, so it fit for me to serve in that way. And in that serving, I have been led to encounter the face of Christ.

“For about a decade, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I led teams on medical missions through an organization called Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. We served in places like Grenada and Peru, helping the very poorest people improve or regain their sight. I loved doing these mission trips once a year, rounding up equipment and supplies and trekking to faraway places to help local people.

“Then in 2008, my focus changed when my wife, Martha, and I were blessed to foster an 11-week-old baby. We had been wanting to become adoptive parents. When we welcomed Aidan into our home ...  Well, we fell in love with him from moment one and formally adopted him in July 2010. We are so grateful and blessed to have him in our lives as our son.

“I’ve always felt strongly about using my skills and talents in the service of others. Giving to others in ways we’re capable of doing is something we’re all called to do – part of our Christian marching orders. That is what led to my missionary work, because I think of eye care as an extension of that. But around the time of Aidan’s arrival, I was exploring options closer to home.

“I became aware of a new organization called Care Free Medical. It serves the needs of Lansing-area residents who would normally go without care because of limited access to the healthcare system. Its founders, Dr. Barry Saltman and his wife, Suzanne, were planning to retire and wanted a way they could give back to their community. They decided to help neighbors in need with free health care – not realizing how great the need was.

“Once they opened their practice, the Saltmans were overwhelmed by the number of people in the Lansing area who needed medical attention but couldn’t access it. They put retirement on hold and opened their clinic. They had thousands of people seek their help, but they also had amazing offers of support from volunteers. These included Dr. and Mrs. Quiroga, who donated their entire medical office, various providers who treated patients and a grandmother who offered to do their laundry.

“Whether it was my life stage or just a greater awareness, I was also seeing the need in communities around our own country. My missions taught me I could make a difference with a little time and a few supplies and equipment nobody else wanted. So I thought, ‘Why not do something in my own back yard?’

“I had more confidence than sense, maybe. I reached out to Dr. Saltman and offered to help. In classic Barry fashion, he excitedly supported the idea.

“Next, I called my longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Leonard Silverman, who had already been treating Care Free patients in his private optometry office. Together, and with the support of many gracious donors and volunteers, we embarked on establishing a viable eye clinic at the old Care Free Medical facility.

“In many ways, the process of opening the clinic was like the Gospel story of the Loaves and Fishes. When he started Care Free Medical Clinic, Dr. Barry Saltman was like the little boy who first offered up his food, and Jesus worked his miracles from there. Dr. Saltman’s act inspired others to donate their time and talents to ‘feed’ those in need, just as Jesus fed the hungry around him.

“Dr. Silverman and I experienced that same generosity in starting the Eye Services. We started with an idea and our devices on hand. Others offered equipment and/or services. Combining our time and effort with the help of many, we opened our doors to the first Care Free patients on June 4, 2008. Then, and now, still more people have continued to donate and serve Care Free Medical under the direction of its new CEO and chief medical officer, Dr. Farhan Bhatti. Dr. Saltman chose Dr. Bhatti to succeed him when he retired and, later, passed away.

“Dr. Silverman and I have stepped back a bit recently, and others have stepped in. My private practice colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Koets, directs Care Free Optometry’s clinical operations and sees most of the patients. Volunteers run the office, providing tech support and glasses fittings. We’ve also welcomed many outstanding MSU student volunteers, as well as externs from the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University. They are all part of the vital educational mission we embraced from the start.

“Care Free Optometry offers basic vision correction and glasses, as well as screenings for health issues like diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts and many other common conditions. We treat what we can and refer those we cannot treat to other physicians. We see neighbors and friends of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life. Our patients include retirement-age folks who lack vision insurance, immigrants and college students trying to get by and children whose families cannot otherwise access or afford basic, essential eyecare.

“So many Americans are working but don’t have vision insurance. We have housekeepers who cannot see well enough to drive at night or help their kids or grandkids with homework. Skilled laborers working every day without bifocals to read their tape measures. Older patients living alone who can’t tell their pill bottles apart or even read their Bible – often because of cataracts they didn’t realize had developed.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we treat children who can’t see clearly across their classroom or up close. Undiagnosed vision problems in children are some of the greatest unmet needs and can greatly affect their ability to learn. Kids are resilient and often adjust, so parents might not be aware their children have difficulty seeing unless they are really suffering. It gives me great satisfaction watching their little faces light up when they can suddenly see clearly.

“Our patients’ appreciation to have basic care, let alone glasses or eye drops, makes it all worth it. Knowing we improved their quality of life in a very meaningful way is its own reward.

“Faith is a natural extension of service beyond self. Jesus modeled this, and Catholicism calls us to live according to the Gospel. The greatest rewards I have experienced in my 58 years come when I’m doing something for others beyond myself. It builds my faith to interact with someone one-on-one, mutually building our perspective and spirits. Much like the Loaves and Fishes story, those we serve give us as much as they receive from our care.

“Christians are called in different ways. Optometry is mine. Through Care Free Medical, I have been led to unexpected encounters with the Spirit and have seen the face of Christ in patients and so many wonderful people from many different backgrounds. Care Free Medical is a true labor of love in our community and in my life.”


Care Free Medical

is a 501(c)(3) that serves thousands of Lansing area residents each year. If you would like to support its mission of providing health care to the most vulnerable among us, go to 

carefreemedical.com/donate.