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First Cuenca English-speaking Lions Club offers vision screening for area children

By Brian Hitsky

Cuenca’s newest service club has a vision.

It’s to provide early childhood screenings, for kids six months of age and onward, in order to identify eye diseases early to prevent blindness. The thrust of the project is to find large groups of children to take the free exams, but adults are also eligible.

Cuenca Lions Club president Mark Davis with Leita Hulmes.

The Cuenca English-speaking Lions Club was chartered on Nov. 7, 2018. Since then the service organization has grown to 27 members, both women, men, Ecuadorians and expats. It takes 20 members to obtain a charter from Lions Club International. It’s the first English Club in Ecuador and club chartering membership ends February 4. Open membership continues after that date.

The idea for an English-speaking Lions Club (there’s already a Spanish-speaking Lions Club in Cuenca) arrived in Cuenca with Mark Davis, a retired United Methodist minister who moved to Ecuador a year ago with his wife Dianna from the Houston-Galveston, Texas. When he posted internet notices about his plan, seven people showed up for the first meeting.

“I am overwhelmed by the commitment of attendance and the willingness to serve,” Davis said. “Our mission is to address community and health needs of others through service, and our purpose is to unite the Latino and expat community by providing opportunities to service the needs of others through collaboration.”

Mark Davis discusses the vision screening project with club members.

The club voted that its first community activity would be vision screening. Davis had attended a district meeting in Texas and was intrigued that a device could detect vision issues on patients as early as six months of age. “I had a grandson and wanted to test him,” Davis said. “I learned that after seven years old, the brain stops working with the eyes.”

The club procured a Welch Allyn Spot Vision Screener, which is a portable hand-held device designed to help screeners quickly and easily detect up to six vision issues. The device screens both eyes at once from about a three-foot distance. From Texas, funds were obtained through the collaborative fundraising efforts of St. John’s and Old River Terrace United Methodist Church and one of the club member’s relationship with an anonymous donor.

The six eye issues the device can detect are Myopia (near-sightedness), Hyperopia (far-sightedness), Anisometropia (unequal refractive power), Astigmatism (blurred vision), Anisocoria (unequal pupil size) and Strabismus (eye misalignment).

Various aspects of the project still need to be worked out before the club actually begins screenings. Members must be trained to operate the machine; examination sites and dates must be coordinated with school officials or authorities, and a list of local optometrists and ophthalmologists must to be compiled for referrals.

“There are a lot of details that need fleshing out,” Davissaid.  “Everything has to be translated in Spanish. However, if we can reach children at a young age, and let their parents know there is an eye issue, it’s a wonderful gift.”

Davis stressed that the test is only to provide an alert that there may be an eye problem.  “We are not trying to perform medical interventions,” he said. “It’s just an exam and if there’s a problem, it’s recommended an appointment be made with a proper eye doctor.”

The Spot Vision Screener weighs six pounds, is 15 inches high, 12 inches wide and has a depth of approximately nine inches.  The person screening holds the machine about three feet from the person being tested.

When subjects looks into the screening device, they observe bright flashing blue and red lights. The screener initiates the testing when the device is focused on the subject’s eyes and data is captured instantly. A report, that can be printed out, is generated. The entire process takes less than a minute.

Davis believes that there are only three such machines in Ecuador, including two in Quito that are used in clinics. “Our machine will to go to schools, nurseries or organizations where we can collaborate to do screenings,” he said.  “This is an early critical need for these children.”

The Cuenca Lions hope to build upon the vision project and to sponsor other service areas through prioritization. Members are currently ranking undertakings such as alcohol and drug addiction prevention, diabetes, education, environmental, hunger and pediatric cancer.
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The Cuenca English-speaking Lions Club holds meetings twice a month from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month. It meets at Rey del Burrito, located at Alfonso Cordero 2-93 and Manuel J Calle, across from SuperMaxi El Vergel.   For more information, Mark Davis can be reached at 096 290-7605.