Catholic school students receive free eye care through local partnership

Tayla Porter anxiously sat in a chair as she waited her turn to to see the doctor. The fourth-grader at St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral was about to have an eye exam.

"I've never had glasses before. I want them real bad," she said with a grin on her face. "I want some black ones."

Tayla was among seven children from her school who received free eye exams and glasses in December at the new Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. The mobile vision clinic has served about 600 children at elementary and middle schools throughout the St. Louis area this past year, including at six Catholic schools. The initiative is a partnership between Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis and the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, a nonprofit organization.

The eye care mobile clinic primarily targets areas where the need for eye care is greatest due to low household income. Lora Mather, executive director of the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, noted that eye care is one health care service that often falls through the cracks, either because a family's insurance doesn't cover it or they don't have insurance.

"Sometimes, it's the fact that parents don't have the time" to get their children in for an exam and have them fitted for glasses, said Mather, "because of the time it takes to get it done."

The eye care mobile has two patient exam rooms, a laboratory and reception area. Children first come in for pretesting by trained staff members with the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America before being examined by a doctor. The vehicle is staffed by volunteer doctors who provide comprehensive eye exams and check the overall health of the eyes. Mather said about 50 children could be seen in one day with two doctors on board. She noted there is a need for more volunteer doctors.

Children who need glasses are able to choose from a variety of frames on display in the mobile unit. Glasses are made right there and are usually ready in an hour. Lenses for specialty prescriptions are made through a partnership with Midland Optical, a local optical laboratory, and either sent to the child's home or school.

St. Louis the King School principal Donna Garcia noted that early eye care intervention is critical in a learning environment. "Sometimes you think other things are going on, when they don't want to listen or learn, but oftentimes it's just that they can't see," she said. "This is a wonderful program, and I am grateful they can do this."

According to a release from the Ronald McDonald House Charities, 10 percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of children in kindergarten through sixth grade in Missouri and Illinois have vision deficiencies. Providing eye care has a great impact on their ability to fully participate in the everyday education process as well as the overall literacy rate and the quality of life for the children it serves.

For more information on the eye care mobile and the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, visit www.eccoma.org or call (636) 778-1022.

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