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Rockaway Lions and others provide community with new vision

Patients went through a variety of tests and examinations to better understand their specific eye deficiencies.

“If you can’t see, you can’t work,” says Dave Lien of the Oregon Vision Coalition, and thanks to a plethora of community partners, 89 people in Tillamook County were given the gift of improved vision.

In April at the Rockaway Lions Clubhouse, eight Oregon community partners came together to provide a free vision clinic with the Rockaway Lions Club. The all day event included vision tests and exams that provided the 89 people who showed up with a greater understanding of their vision issues and a free pair of glasses.

But the event was not open to just anyone. Applicants had to fulfill the qualifications in the application, including being below the poverty line. But according to Rockaway Lion Marilou Bowmen, nobody was turned away.

“We had planned on seeing 93, but ended up seeing 89,” Bowmen said. “Out of those 89, five received emergency eye care at the clinic and 30 received a referral to get more assistance later.”

The Rockaway Lions partnered with OHSU Casey Eye Institute, the Oregon Vision Coalition, Pacific University, Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, Opticians Association of Oregon, Oregon Optometric Physicians Association and the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation to make the event possible.

At the event, two fully outfitted mobile ophthalmology units were brought in to provide the necessary equipment to perform the screenings. Program Administror for the OHSU Casey Eye Institute Verian Wedeking said the Casey Outreach program has traveled over 30,000 miles across Oregon since it began in 2010, providing much needed services to over 8,500 community member who have little to no access to medical vision care. And it’s done completely free.

“We offer no cost for our medical eye screenings to try to identify eye disease early,” Wedeking said. “A lot of insurances don’t offer a full dilate exam and there’s a lot of eye disease that is very subtle. If you don’t get it diagnosed, you could potentially lose your sight.”

Wedeking said the program is 100 percent donation funded and volunteer driven. The Casey Outreach program partners with the Oregon Vision Coalition a few times a year to put on events such as the one in Rockaway Beach. The previous day, the two organizations were in Astoria, providing 32 free exams that would typically total to nearly $14,000. In Rockaway, the total cost of the services provided totaled somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000 according to Wedeking.

“Through the support of our donors, we are also able to provide glasses at no cost,” Wedeking said. “By the time someone leaves the clinic, they will have a definitive diagnoses or referral, a prescription and glasses.”

At the clinic, patients were examined not only by professional eye doctors, but by Pacific University optometry students as well. The Pacific University Outreach team partners with the Oregon Vision Coalition to provide a lot of outreach to people around Forest Grove and the Portland area says student leader Nick Grant.

“We have 12 students here and it’s a great experience for them because they can practice their skills and gain more experience,” Grant said. “It’s also great to be able to help people who don’t have access to the necessary resources like you would in the Portland area.”

After the students and other eye specials examined the patients, they would step into one of the two vans to be inspected by doctors such as Dr. Dan.

“95 percent of the exam is done outside of the van and then we take a look at the retina, searching for cataracts, glaucoma or maculate degeneration,” Dr. Dan said. “For people that want it, we will give them a glasses prescription. We are happy to be here and glad to have the opportunity to help.”

The overall consensus was that the event was a huge success. Patients learned how to resolve their eyesight problems and others left with a fresh pair of bifocals, which has always been the goal of Lien and the Oregon Vision Coalition.

“When I was in second grade I couldn’t really see and I was given a pair of glasses, which totally changed my life,” Lien said. “So my thing has always been that I don’t want a single child or adult to go through life being unable to see and we’ve made progress toward that goal today.”