Today we remember an incredible human being, our leader, Dr. Phil Ortiz.

Phil became interested in I Care after going on VOSH missions to Latin America. He became frustrated with the larger national organization and thought streamlining clinic operations would serve more patients. He and Dr. Chuck Cools founded I Care International in 1989.

Tim Ortiz, Phil’s son, kindly shared some insight into what he thought kept his father involved for so long. He believes his dad was passionate about helping others because of his roots. His parents were Mexican immigrants that had found success in the US. They raised a loving family of six children, but not without help from others here. Tim said I Care was a constant in his parents’ life and they worked all year long on the organization. Phil was the driving force, but his wife Gay was the director behind the scenes that adroitly kept things humming smoothly! I asked Tim how consumed his family was with I Care, and he said he was so obsessed with planning clinics that he and his sister Dawn called I Care their 3rd sibling! Tim said his Grandma Jenny and Grandpa Benny were very proud of the work that Phil and Gay did to help others. Tim thought his dad may have attended close to 50 I Care clinics in his career.

Dawn Legg, Phil’s daughter, said she anticipates the upcoming mission to San Lucas Tolimán as both rewarding to continue her dad’s legacy, but also emotional since this is the first trip without him to oversee and troubleshoot all the things that can and will go wrong!  It’s part of the experience but suspects his presence will be very strongly felt and he will be guiding us the entire time. She shared that Lance Kinney had her dad honored at a Shaman ceremony this past week in Guatemala, so likely dad will be hanging out with us!

Dave McClure said in the early days of I Care, volunteers were together virtually all the time; at meals, at the clinic, after clinic hours, and also together on tours and activities after clinics ended. Phil and Gay, mostly Gay, organized activities for volunteers. Imagine forty volunteers having drinks after dinner with comedy sketches performed by people recruited to deliver bits from scripts provided by Gay earlier in the day. Or large group performances of charades, or any number of creative group activities. That camaraderie built I Care, and Phil and Gay made it happen.

Phil urged us to immerse ourselves in the local foods and customs, which often included local drinks. In Mexico and Central America that translated to tequila, rum, aguardiente, and local beers. We were away from home, and we cut loose often. Phil thought that was good for us gringos.

Phil learned the locals’ names and was constantly introducing us. He quickly knew the life stories of the street vendors, bartenders, waiters and waitresses, the local volunteers in the clinic. He used his ability to understand Spanish to acquaint us with the life stories of those we were serving and working with.

Bill Aplington shared some memories of Phil. He said Phil was cool, most definitely very cool.  He had the unusual gift of being able to power nap in a moment’s notice almost anywhere, even on a nice cool cement sidewalk! He walked tall and always looked sharp in a nice pair of trousers and a Cuban shirt, or a matching sweater….and he almost always wore a big smile. He was humble and didn’t take himself too seriously, comfortably going barefoot while seeing patients. He was attractive in a more important way, the way he collected people and created a sense of community and purpose, whether that be in Morris, Illinois or San Luis Obispo, California. His was a personality and character to be admired and emulated and, of course, his tremendous generosity is really legendary. I only knew him for a short while but he helped me understand that when I grow up, if I ever do, that I want to grow up to be maybe a little like Phil. I wished I had told him so…..

I Care is more than an eye care mission, it is a cultural exchange. It’s a way for Americans to appreciate and understand our neighbors in other countries. Phil gave all that to us. Those of us who were with Phil on missions will miss his guidance and knowledge very much.  We are determined to honor Phil by continuing his work.

I Care International Missions 1989 – April 2020


Acaponeta, Nayarit – 1 Mission – Attended 3,226 Patients

Amealco and Humilpan, Queretaro – 1 Mission – Attended 4,000 Patients

Belize – 1 Mission – Attended 1,143 Patients

Chile – 1 Mission – Pacific University – Attended 3,000 Patients

Compostela, Nyarit – 2 Missions – Attended 3,600 Patients

Cuenca, Ecuador – 1 Mission – Attended 3,800 Patients

Durango, Mexico – 2 Missions – Attended 3,277 Patients

Ft. Myers, Florida, USA – 1 Mission – Attended 985 Patients

Guanajuato, Guanajuato – 13 Missions – Attended 35,925 Patients

Guatemala, Central America – 8 Missions – Attended 10,842 Patients

Guyana, SA- 1 Mission – Attended 5,000 Patients

Hopi, Arizona, USA – 1 Mission – Attended 485 Patients

Huatulco, Oaxaca – 6 Missions – Attended 9,202 Patients

La Penita, Nayarit – 2 Missions – Attended 5,190 Patients

Lima-Lurin Valley, Peru – 1 Mission – Attended 1,400 Patients

Manzanillo, Mexico – 1 Mission – Attended 2,572 Patients

Merida, Yucatan – 7 Missions – Attended 12,703 Patients

Mexico City, Mexico-1 Mission-Attended 2,550 Patients

Nicaragua – 1 Mission – Indiana University – Attended 2,000 Patients

Oaxaca, Oaxaca – 3 Missions – Attended 9,160 Patients

Parrita, Costa Rica-1 Mission-Attended 1486 Patients

Posoltege, Nicaragua -2 Missions – Attended 5,700 Patients

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca – 6 Missions – Attended 12,938 Patients

San Francisco, Nayarit – 1 Mission – Attended 2,700 Patients

San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala – 1 Mission – Attended 1,700 Patients

San Luis de La Paz, Guanajuato – 1 Mission – Attended 1,850 Patients

San Pedro Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico – 1 Mission – Attended 1117

San Pedro Sula, Honduras – 1 Mission – Attended 3,000 Patients

Santa Ana, Oaxaca – 1 Mission – Attended 1,300 Patients

Santos Reyes Nopala, Mexico – 1 Mission – Attended 875 Patients

Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala – 1 Mission – Attended 1357 Patients

Tacna, Peru – 1 Mission – Attended 1,300 Patients

Tela, Honduras – 1 Mission – 804 Patients

Tepalcingo, Morelos, Mexico – 1 Mission – Attended 1735 Patients

Trujillo, Honduras – 2 missions – Attended 3138 patients

Uruapan, Michoacan – 1 Mission – Attended 3,500 Patients

Villahermosa, Tabasco – 10 Missions – Attended 25,450 Patients

Zihuatenejo, Mexico – 4 Missions – Attended 4,469 Patients


Mexico City, Mexico – 1 Mission – 140 Hearing Aids

Tepalcingo, Morelos, Mexico – 1 Mission – 124 Hearing Aids

Zihuatenejo, Mexico – 3 Missions – 297 Hearing Aids


Huatulco, Oaxaca – 5 Missions – 265 Cataract surgeries with I Care M.D.’s

San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala – 22 Cataract surgeries

Solola, Guatemala – 1 Mission – 40 Cataract surgeries

Trujillo, Honduras – 1 Mission – 58 surgical procedures

Remembering Dr. Ortiz