Dr. Mark Kapperman says a mission trip to Belize when he was a freshman at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis ignited a passion for providing eye care to needy people in Central America.
"It was a tremendous experience to see parts of the world I was not familiar with," he says. "It was my first experience to the fact that we live in opulence compared to most of the world."
Kapperman, who practices in Chattanooga at Kapperman, White & McGarvey Eyecare, says he now has been to Honduras over 20 times on similar medical mission trips.
The 61-year-old physician is a 2023 Champion of Health Care in the volunteer category.
Kapperson says he works with a Honduran organization, Predisan Health Ministries, and travels to a remote mountainous area around the city of Catacamas where there are nearby remote clinics.
"Certainly there is no access to eye care if we don't go," he says. "That's why I keep on going. I found an area where the need is great and it pairs with the gifts God gave me."
The physician, whose office is on Gunbarrel Road, said there are probably 20 different places on the busy artery where people can receive an eye exam.
"There (around Catacamas) you can't get an eye exam," Kapperman said. "It's filling the need and you see the joy on the faces as they put on a pair of glasses and they're able to see. It never gets old."
He says he also experiences the joy of providing eye care for people that don't have it while at the same "loving and caring for others, sharing your faith and your love for Christ through giving to others."
But Kapperman adds that political circumstances in Honduras over the last two years have made it more difficult to provide services. For about 19 years he was able to go and take equipment through customs and never be questioned, he says.
But two years ago, he was detained for three hours in customs as officials went through every box and item, Kapperman says.
He says the new Honduran government is "making it difficult for some nonprofit and faith-based organizations. It's changing for sure."
Kapperman, who was born in West Tennessee and came to Chattanooga when he was 15 years old, says he also works locally with Volunteers in Medicine, which is a private, non-profit primary care clinic. He says that for many years, he and doctors in the practice have served as the eye care arm for the clinic.
In addition, the married father of three children and a grandchild says he has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, noting he always learns another skill helping build houses for the organization.
Kapperman, who graduated from Ooltewah High School and undertook pre-med studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says he opened his first office on Gunbarrel Road in 1987, just weeks after the debut of nearby Hamilton Place mall.
"We were the first business on Gunbarrel," he says. Kapperman says he moved into the current office in Gunbarrel in 1995 and it has expanded twice.
What do you do for relaxation/to beat stress?
I enjoy being outside, doing things like camping, fishing, hunting, riding bikes, hiking -- just about anything outdoors. I also enjoy working at my farm in Apison.
What led you to become a medical professional?
My grandfather was a medical doctor, a small town physician. I was always interested in health care. One of my aunts was blind, so I learned to have a greater understanding for those with lack of eyesight. I saw how it affected people. That made me want to go into the profession, so I could protect and preserve eyesight.
If you could choose another profession, what would it be and why?
I suppose it would still be related to helping and serving others in some sort of medical capacity. To me, eyecare is the cleanest, most fun type of medicine. I love what I do so much, it would be hard to replace it with something else.