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Local Lions Clubs helping detect vision problems in children

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NORTH STONINGTON — In addition to the expected lineup of musical performances, tractor pulls and other events, the North Stonington Agricultural Fair next month will include a new, more unusual service.

The North Stonington Lions Club will be providing advanced eye screenings for the general public, with a focus on young children, as part of an initiative to promote vision health and treatment.

The advanced eye screening equipment, provided through the Lions Eye Heath Program, functions like a camera. It takes a snapshot of the eyes to screen for a variety of eye abnormalities, such as astigmatism, nearsightedness or farsightedness, and anisometropia, or unequal refractive power. In about 15 seconds, the PediaVision SPOT VS100 equipment provides a printout image of the photo, coupled with a “pass” or “refer” diagnosis.

North Stonington program coordinator Margaret Austin, a Mystic resident and former health administrator at The Westerly Hospital, explained that discovering and recommending treatment for young children who may suffer from undiagnosed vision problems is the goal of the screenings.

“Often with young children, even their parents don’t know if they have vision issues,” Austin said. “It may be as few as just 5 percent that need some follow-up, but if we can detect those issues and alert the parents, it’s a really good thing.”

While myopia or farsightedness may be more easily detected, conditions like anisometropia are harder to recognize, especially in young children, Austin said. If untreated, the condition can affect the brain and cause partial or total blindness in one eye.

The local Lions Club first launched the program with a screening for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at North Stonington Elementary School in April, in which more than 60 students participated. After each student was tested, the Lions Club mailed the result information to the parents, including a list of local eye specialists for those students that needed a follow-up. While most of the children did not show signs of vision issues through the screening, a couple did. Austin described the club’s first screening as a success, and said they are already working to schedule another elementary school screening in the fall.

“We’re very excited and very proud,” she said. “It’s been so fun to work with these children, and we’re looking to expand this service.”

Based on this success of this initial screening, Austin said the club has reached out to several local preschools and day care centers, as well as the fair.

Like other Lions clubs participating in the program, they will aim for children between the ages of 2 and 5, since research indicates this group is more likely to suffer from undiagnosed vision problems.

“A lot of these conditions can be treated if you catch them early on,” said Joel Zuckerbraun, an optometrist with a practice in Jewett City and coordinator of adult vision screenings for Lions clubs in southeastern Connecticut. “If you let them go much beyond age 5 or 6, they may never be fully treated.”

Zuckerbraun noted that the PediaVision screenings are quick and painless. Furthermore, the pediatric screenings do not require a doctor to be present to evaluate the results, although the adult screenings do. Any Lions Club member interested in performing the test can attend a series of equipment training sessions to learn to administer it.

Austin said that about 12 to 14 members of the North Stonington chapter, which has 45 members, have participated in the training, which is offered as part of the Connecticut Lions Eye Research Foundation. The North Stonington chapter shares two of the $6,000 PediaVision machines with the other Lions Clubs in its district, which were funded through the state foundation, according to Austin.

The club’s presence at the agricultural fair will be the first time a screening is offered for the general public, Austin said. She noted that many community members have already heard about the equipment through word-of-mouth since the elementary school screening.

“It’s important that this is a community-based effort, and so far, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” she said.

While Austin said the club will focus on 2 to 5-year-old children as its primary recipients, “If there is a 10-year-old that comes up and wants a screening, we’ll do it. The goal is not to turn people away.”

After several meetings with Austin and the Connecticut District 23C Lions Clubs, Bob Hatfield, king lion of the Westerly Lions Club, said they are also considering providing the screening service for Westerly children. The local chapter already uses a different brand of eye screening equipment provided through the Rhode Island Lions Sight Foundation. It is known as the Sperian (formerly Titmus) V4 Vision Screener.

This equipment tests for myopia and farsightedness, as well as glaucoma, Hatfield said, but is primarily used for slightly older children, ages 5 to 8. The club held its first screening at the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce butterfly garden event last summer, and hopes to hold an event at the Westerly Public Library, according to Hatfield.

“So far, it’s been going very well,” he said. “But we’re definitely interested in the PediaVision technology as well. It’s certainly something we’re going to do research on. And we’ll be talking to Margaret some more.”

Hatfield explained that in order for the Westerly club to join up with the program, the Rhode Island Lions Sight Foundation would need to approve and sponsor the program. The Lions Clubs are part of an international, service-based organization with a focus on providing vision screenings and care, among other causes.

nlavin@thewesterlysun.com



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