TAMPA, Fla. — Some kids in Hillsborough County are facing a silent epidemic: undiagnosed and untreated eye disease. Now, the local non-profit is asking for the community's help to get more children free eye exams in Tampa Bay area schools.
As a former school nurse, Kathy Jones has seen kids struggle to learn, all because they are struggling to see. Now, she is a volunteer conducting eye exams in Hillsborough County Schools for Lion's Eye Institute for Transplant & Research, located in Ybor City.
"They don't know that they have a vision issue," Jones said. "They just think that is their world."
According to Lion's Eye Institute, a much as 70% of classroom learning depends on sight.
Using a tool called Blink, Lion's Eye doctors and volunteers are providing free vision screenings to children. Blink helps them look all the way into the back of your child's eyes to determine if they need to be seen by an ophthalmologist.
"The first time they put on their glasses or are able to go to an eye-care professional and get the help they need to preserve the vision they have," Jones said. "It's world-changing."
There are other warning signs for possible eye disease in kids for parents to watch for too, including not making good eye contact, rubbing their eyes frequently, a turned eye, sitting too close to the television, avoiding reading, tilting their head back often to see, frequent headaches, poor hand-eye coordination, and squinting.
"We want them to understand that vision health is health care," said Holly Moon, foundation manager for Lion's Eye Institute.
Moon said Lion's Eye Institute now has a unique opportunity to establish a new pediatric vision center. It will provide a comprehensive eye health program for children in Hillsborough County who are lacking access to eye services.
SUPPORT LION'S EYE INSTITUTE | Sign the online petition
You can help by adding your name to an online petition of supporters. This will be sent to elected officials so they can show this is important to the community and hopefully allow Lion's Eye Institute to take the next step in securing funding for the expansion of services.
"So, what we need right now is we need people to let their elected officials know that this is a program that they need in our community," Moon said.
Pediatric eye disease in kids is even more common in those living in low-income households and communities of color. According to the Lion's Eye Institute, more than one-third of Mexican-American and Black teenagers have blurred vision.
Across the United States, about 25% of all children have some sort of eye disease, according to the non-profit.