Local organizations team up to give children free eye exams

Posted: April 14, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Amira Davis, 9, sits near the front of her fourth-grade classroom each day at Aldan Elementary School in Delaware County.

She can read each word when her teacher spells out lessons in thick, glossy strokes of black marker on the room's central whiteboard. But, she recently told her mother, when her teacher fires up the room's overhead projector, Amira has to squint to make out the words.

"If she didn't mention that she couldn't see the board, we never would have come today," Amira's mother, Amber Lozado, said.

On Saturday, Lozado brought her two children - Amira and 7-month-old Gem - to the fifth annual Give Kids Sight Day, an event hosted by Wills Eye Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University that offers free eye exams to children 18 and under. Any child who fails the exam receives two free pairs of eyeglasses.

Between 8 a.m. and the event's conclusion at 2 p.m., a squadron of volunteer ophthalmologists from Wills Eye had examined 1,067 children. Representatives from Visionworks of America, the San Antonio-based eyewear chain that provided eyeglasses for the day, will not know exactly how many children received free glasses until next week, when they expect to finish processing Saturday's orders.

The event was sponsored in part by the child advocacy organization Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), the First Hospital Foundation, Wills Eye, Jefferson, and the Eagles Youth Partnership, which parked its Eagles Eye Mobile outside to help process eyeglass orders.

Alex Levin, chief of Wills Eye's pediatric ophthalmology and ocular genetics services, helped found the event in 2009, after, he said, he witnessed a glaring need for charity medical care in a city where many children are underinsured, or not insured at all.

Levin studied medicine in Canada, "where everyone has free health care," he said. "A lot of [American] kids get their eyes examined in schools. With these nursing cutbacks, it's harder and harder for kids to get eye care."

If an uninsured child is diagnosed with an eye disease such as glaucoma or macular degeneration, Levin said, Wills Eye will work out a plan to treat the issue at a reasonable cost to the child's parents.

PCCY representatives worked with nurses from the School District of Philadelphia, as well as the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of Philadelphia, to publicize the event.

Volunteers from PCCY were also on hand Saturday to help parents of uninsured children sign up for Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program. Thirty-three interpreters were on hand to help non-English speakers receive insurance.

"A lot of undocumented workers don't have health insurance in America, which is unacceptable," said Colleen McCauley, PCCY's health policy director. "We want to make sure every child has health insurance."

Charrisse Jackson, an administrative assistant from South Philadelphia, said her two children have not had vision insurance since her husband retired on disability.

"I work part time, and it just costs so much," she said, as her two children, ages 12 and 9, slept next to her as they awaited a doctor. They had been waiting for about four hours.


giannelli@phillynews.com

856-779-3882 @jerryiannelli

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