By Debbie Adams
Lions Clubs are best known around the world for their dedication to programs involving vision. Their mission began in 1925 when Helen Keller addressed their convention and challenged them to become “Knights of the Blind.”
Local Lions, including Vinton Breakfast Lions Club members, have carried on that goal of preserving and protecting eyesight in the decades since. One of their programs with the most significant impact on the community is their screening of children in both public and private schools each year. It is a vitally important service and just one of many ways the organization contributes to the community.
Lion Denny Dickens has been facilitating a program of vision screenings for local schools for about 15 years. In the fall, the Lions conduct the screenings– free of charge– for Pre-K, kindergarten, third, eighth, and 10th graders, and students of any grade level new to the school in the public schools, as mandated by the state of Virginia; they also screen students in several private preschools each year.
On March 15, Dickens screened 33 students, ages 3-6, in three classes at Thrasher Preschool, a private preschool located at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton. That visit was coordinated by Preschool Director Erin Edmonson, Jennifer Rawling, and the Lions.
So far, Dickens has screened 104 preschoolers at Bonsack Baptist, 15 at Good Shepherd Preschool, and 15 at the Evangel Foursquare Church preschool.
Last fall, the Lions completed vision screenings on 974 students at William Byrd High School and Middle School, Herman L. Horn Elementary, W.E. Cundiff Elementary, and Bonsack Elementary.
When the Lions began preschool screenings several years ago, the technology consisted of a Polaroid camera with special film. Photos were taken and then screened individually by Vinton optometrist Dr. Neal Jessup. Tremendous advances have occurred in the field in just a few years.
The method they have now adopted now is use of the Welch Allyn Spot Vision Screeners described by the company as “handheld, portable devices designed to help users quickly and easily detect vision issues on patients from six months of age through adult. The camera screens both eyes at once from a nonthreatening 3-foot distance in just moments.”
An infrared light is projected through the pupils onto the retina and captures the vision data, which appears on the camera display screen. The cameras can detect near-sightedness, far-sightedness, unequal refractive power, blurred vision and eye structure problems like astigmatism, pupil size deviations, and eye misalignment.
Students who already have glasses or contact lenses can be screened with the camera as well.
The Spot Vision cameras make the process must quicker and less complicated and have vastly improved the accuracy of the screening process. The cameras are virtually foolproof and even the most distractible student is engaged for the few seconds that it takes to complete the screening by gazing into the camera with its flashing lights.
The Lions enter only minimal data to protect the identity of students. All data is erased at the end of the screening session. They use a wireless printer to export data of only those students who may have a vision problem. The information is passed along to the school and then to parents for them to make an appointment for professional evaluation with a doctor of their choice.
Of the 33 students screened at Thrasher, four were referred for further evaluation in a letter sent to their parents.
The Mount Pleasant Lions Club and other Roanoke-area Lions Clubs also conduct vision screenings.