By Travis Smola
The Schoolcraft Lions Club got to see how its work and donations have given people their eyesight and improved their lives in a presentation at their meeting this month.
The club donates around $500 annually to Eversight, formerly known as the Michigan Eye Bank. The organization coordinates all corneal transplants in Michigan. They also assist in research and education of eyesight conditions. The organization works so often with Lions Clubs across the state that Eversight Community Relations Liaison Alexandra Teska was asked about them in her job interview.
“That’s how important you guys are,” Teska told Lions Club members.
“We are thankful that you can help us achieve our mission every year.”
Teska says corneal diseases can be easily cured with a cornea transplant. Eversight has been so successful that there is no Michigan waiting list. The success rate for surgeries is 90 percent. “That’s the highest success rate for any kind of transplant,” she said.
At the meeting, the Lions were introduced to some of the people who were positively affected by Lions Club donations. Tobi Cherry of Sturgis is one of those people. She struggled with visual difficulties for years.
Cherry’s eye problems first became noticeable in high school. After college, her eyesight steadily worsened until consultations with doctors revealed her only hope for normal eyesight was a cornea transplant. The procedure ended up being a life changer.
“Wow, I cannot tell you how much better my quality of life is now!” Cherry said.
Aimee Sherman’s parents didn’t have insurance for surgery when she was born blind. The Lions Clubs of Michigan footed the bill for an experimental surgery years ago that gave her sight at age three. Sherman now has 20-20 vision with astigmatism. She says she’ll take it, as she could originally only see light, shapes and colors.
“I’d always known the Lions club had helped me, but I didn’t know much about them,” Sherman said. She’s just recently joined the cause as one of the club’s newest members.
Also present at the meeting were 17-year-old twins Madison and Malia Nichols. The girls just got their first jobs at Kohl’s and will start college at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids next year. No small feat considering they were born blind as a result of corneal glaucoma.
The girls’ mother, Heather Nichols said the doctors knew quickly after the twins’ birth something was wrong. Both girls had emergency corneal transplants at just four months old to give them sight.
The Schoolcraft Lions stepped in to help after the girls’ initial surgeries. Both girls required additional special treatments that could only be done by specialists at Duke University in North Carolina. The Lions Club footed the bill for transportation and lodging costs while they were there.
They were also involved in helping print and distribute a book the girls wrote when they were 11 years old. The book, “The Blind Pocupine,” was written by the girls for fun, but is now distributed as an educational tool to raise awareness of the importance of corneal transplants.
While the girls don’t have perfect eyesight and have to see an eye doctor on a regular basis, they are no longer blind and are able to live a normal life. They are thankful for the Lions Club’s contributions. The girls are soft-spoken, but were happy to share their experiences of a vacation this summer where they got to see Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island and more.
The next big step is something that may seem impossible for someone once blind–learning to drive. “The doctor OK’d both of them, but mom is not ready for that yet,” Heather Nichols said.