Lions Clubs' vision for the future

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Organizations working to get better diagnostic equipment to identify vision problems.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Eye-opening improvements have been made in vision screening technology over the years, and Twin County Lion’s Clubs see a need to upgrade their equipment.
Obtaining the new digital technology made available by the Spot vision screening device means the clubs could move away from the “PhotoScreener” that uses Polaroid film and needs to take two pictures of the eyes.
The international Lion’s Club focuses on vision and hearing issues. The local clubs have pursued that mission by providing screenings for children and opening an eye clinic in the back of the United Way offices in Galax to provide services to those without medical insurance.


Twin County Lions members conducted vision screenings for children at elementary schools in order to help detect disorders that could contribute to future problems.
Screenings can point to many kinds of vision problems, ranging from nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism to pupil abnormalities and unequal refractive power.
Those with disorders get referred to an eye doctor for a complete examination.
“Vision disability is the single most prevalent disabling condition among children,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Blindness and vision impairment in children and older adults is often underrepresented or not represented at all as an indicator for optimal health and quality of life."
Nearly 25 percent of school-aged children have a vision issue, but fewer than 15 percent of preschool children typically receive a vision exam and fewer than 22 percent receive a screening.
Local Lions Clubs have been growing their eye screening program for about a decade, said Kitty Smith, eye clinic manager. They have worked through school nurses and principals of public schools, as well as Head Start and preschools and setting up at health fairs as community outreach.
Smith showed two photos taken from hundreds of previous screening  \ one of a child with normal eyes and one with a lazy eye.
The child with normal eyes has pupils that show up clear and a uniform gray in the black-and-white Polaroids. By comparison, the child with the lazy eye goes from light to darker gray.
A Lions Club member would have made a referral to an eye doctor based on those results. Whether the family gets seen for the vision impairment doesn’t often get reported back to the Lions.
“If they don’t get care before eight years of age, there’s a possibility they’ll become blind — not always,” Smith said.
While the current equipment has been valuable in catching potential problems in school children, Lions members believe that the new “Spot” device will prove even more efficient and helpful.
“It’s a mechanism that’s going to reach many more people,” Smith said.
The current technology, almost 20 years old, has become increasingly difficult to repair and depends on film that’s not readily available.
“This camera is no longer manufactured, the film is expensive and spare parts are difficult to find,” says literature from the Lions Clubs.
The Spot camera generates a report that makes plain potential difficulties. The old camera provided two pictures of the eyes for the volunteers to interpret.
“It is very fast, uses no film, electronically evaluates the eyes and prints a complete report,” the literature says about the desired scanner. “It can evaluate the eyes of all ages of children and adults, which the PhotoScreener cannot do.”
Keeping younger children still so the old system can take two photos of their eyes proved challenging, too.
Lions volunteers note that the Spot camera will work on people of all ages, not just children, like the old technology.
“It’s a big step forward,” Galax Lions member Kent Cox said about Spot. “It’s efficient and reliable and it’s very well-received by optometrists and ophthalmologists and they’ve been highly impressed with it.”
The local Lions Clubs are raising funds and trying to obtain two of the Spot cameras. “Personally, I’m convinced that’s the way we need to go,” Cox said.
“I do know this is a piece of equipment that we desperately need,” said Junior Anderson, the Lions Eye Clinic board president. “We’re just very excited and we’re looking forward to getting the new equipment to use in our community to help out our citizens.”

Lions Clubs in Galax, Hillsville, Independence and Fries have teamed up to raise the $15,000 to buy two Spot cameras. Donations may be made by contacting the different Lions Clubs in the Twin Counties or Lions Club members. The address for the Hillsville Lions Club is P.O. Box 122, Hillsville, Va., 24343.