In one morning, Woodbury Lions Club members Marty Borchardt and Jim Curnow checked the eyes of more than 30 kids for possible vision problems.
The process was simple. A parent would approach the Lions Club’s booth at the Woodbury Kids Expo on Jan. 12. The child, usually between 6 months and 6 years years old, would sit by themselves or with a parent on a folding chair across from one of the men. A handheld device, called the Plusoptix mobile vision screener, quickly scanned the child’s eyes and let the operator know if it detected anything abnormal.
After just a few minutes, the parent and child could be on their way.
“It’s just so easy for the kids,” Woodbury Lion Sarah Turner said.
Woodbury Lions began providing free eyesight screenings at the beginning of 2018 as part of Lions KidSight USA, a program formed to promote eye health through early detection and intervention.
This type of exam doesn’t replace a trip to the eye doctor, but it can alert parents to a need for an appointment.
About 5 percent of kids who are screened receive a referral to an eye doctor, Turner said.
For the past year, Turner has followed up with the parents of children who get referred.
“Ninety-nine percent of parents indicate that they had no idea there was any type of issue, they didn’t suspect anything,” she said.
One of the most common issues eye doctors find is astigmatism, when the front of one eye is curved differently than the other eye, causing blurred vision. Astigmatism can be corrected with eyeglasses or contacts, as can the also common near- and farsightedness.
The screening device also detects amblyopia, or lazy eye, which usually develops before age six.
“Most people are pretty surprised that their kids have any type of an issue,” Turner said.
The screening device can also detect more serious problems, including retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer.
In 2018, Lions screened 775 kids at 14 private and home-based day cares. But the organization is working to conduct even more, Woodbury Lion Matthew Johnson said.
Johnson works to build a relationship between the Lions and local schools, as well as trust among parents. More often than not, the two groups are interested in the free vision screening once they learn about it, he said.
Johnson emphasized the importance of having kids screened every year, as children’s eyes can change as they grow. To reinforce this, Woodbury Lions will make stops at the day cares they visited in 2018 again this year.
“We don’t want parents to think, ‘Hey, they were screened last year, why would they need to be screened again this year?’” he said.
In January, Johnson said some District 833 schools had already agreed to have Lions visit for vision screenings.
Woodbury Lions hope to screen 1,500 children in schools and at community events in 2019.