“They saved our little girl’s life. Had it not been for the Lions Club, she may not be here today,” says Dorie Leitten, about the eye screening set up by Lions KidSight USA, a nationwide vision screening program run by Lions with support from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF). The program provides children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years with critical eye screenings that can detect relatively common conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and amblyopia—which is sometimes called “lazy eye”—as well as rare and dangerous conditions like retinoblastoma.
The findings of a recent study, published in the June 2017 issue of JAMA Opthalmology, found that in 2015 more than 174,000 children aged 3 to 5 years in the United States were visually impaired.
Research shows that most kids are visual learners, but many do not have their vision screened until they have difficulties learning in school. Unfortunately, by the time kids are of school age, it may be too late to reverse vision problems. The Lions involved with KidSight USA want to reach young kids before it’s too late. In addition to the concentration on younger children, Lions are also encouraged to screen kids through high school to reach those who may need glasses.
They saved our little girl’s life. Had it not been for the Lions Club, she may not be here today.
KidSight USA began in order to address this need with organized vision care for children. In 2014, top Lions leadership asked if Past International Director Dr. Edward Cordes would like to head an organization that would unify and expand Lions eye screenings, helping to provide standardized care to children nationwide. Dr. Cordes, a retired optometrist who volunteers his time with Corning New York Lions Club, was glad to take on the task. Soon after, KidSight USA was founded.
Today, Lions set up their free KidSight USA screenings at schools and daycares. A trained Lion uses a high-tech screening device to check the children for visual disturbances. Children who are found to have a vision issue are then referred to an eye doctor for further evaluation.
In 2014, Brianna was in kindergarten when she attended a KidSight USA eye screening at her school. “Something was just not right; we couldn’t get a reading,” says Dr. Cordes. As a result, the Bloomfield Lions Club referred Brianna to an eye doctor for further evaluation. Brianna was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that can be fatal if not caught before it has spread outside the eye. Brianna was taken into emergency surgery to remove the affected eye. Thankfully, the cancer hadn’t spread and Brianna was able to graduate kindergarten with her friends. When she received her prosthetic eye, which the Bloomfield Lions Club helped pay for, Brianna started dancing in joy. “She was very happy, we were very happy, and life was good again,” said Leitten. This year, Brianna will be celebrating her 10th birthday.
LCIF is able to support Lions clubs that are involved with KidSight USA by awarding grants that can help pay for the required vision screening devices. US$2.4 million in grants have been awarded to fund KidSight initiatives, including support from Plusoptix and Welch Allyn, two leading companies producing world-class vision screening devices. These funds have enabled Lions to purchase 732 vision screening devices. Last year, 1.6 million children across the nation had vision-saving and potentially life-saving eye screenings through KidSight USA.
According to Dr. Cordes, Lions KidSight USA will continue to grow and develop new initiatives, including eye care education for families and the creation of a national database that will deliver significant insight.
“Lions KidSight USA has been extremely successful because it enables Lions in their local communities to have an immediate impact on the lives of the children in their communities,” he says. “They get relatively instant feedback from their efforts.” Lions KidSight USA is yet another way Lions continue in the tradition of being ‘Knights of the Blind.’”