• Together, We’re Saving Sight — and Lives

    Christine Chapman knew something was seriously wrong when her vision suddenly started to fail. She found help with EyeCare America volunteer Julia Song, MD. Dr. Song diagnosed Christine with narrow-angle glaucoma and helped her get the urgent surgery she needed, ultimately saving her sight. “I am so grateful for EyeCare America,” said Christine. “Just to know I could get an exam meant I could get a move on treating this disease.” 

    THE ACADEMY’S EYECARE AMERICA® public service program has become one of the largest in U.S. medicine. With major funding from the Foundation and, for more than 20 years, the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, the program facilitates access to medical eye care for underserved Americans. These exams detect not only conditions with the eyes, but also other overall health issues. By encouraging preventive care through medical eye exams, we can save not only sight, but potentially lives as well.

    Since 1985, EyeCare America has helped nearly 2 million people nationwide. More than 90 percent of care provided is at no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. In recognition of this significant contribution to society, every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has commemorated the program’s dedication to volunteerism, often with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

    The generous service of more than 5,500 participating ophthalmologists fuels the program’s success. These volunteers provide comprehensive or glaucoma eye exams, the former of which may include care for up to one year, at no out-of-pocket cost for the doctor’s services. Our volunteers’ dedication to their communities gives qualifying older Americans a chance at a better quality of life.

    Because the eyes are the one place in the body where an ophthalmologist can clearly view blood vessels and nerves, sometimes the exams reveal health issues beyond sight. Irregularities can signal other conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and even brain tumors.

    EyeCare America volunteer Michael R. Feilmeier, MD, likely saved an elderly man’s life when the patient complained of partial vision loss. During a comprehensive medical eye examination, Dr. Feilmeier detected troubling signs of a blood clot in one of the patient’s eyes. He immediately sent the man to his primary care physician for an ultrasound, which revealed a large clot obstructing 95 percent of his left carotid artery. “Had this condition not been quickly diagnosed and treated, this patient would have had a major stroke,” said Dr. Feilmeier.

    The impact of EyeCare America is clear, as the program receives countless notes from grateful patients throughout the year. Mr. Webb, from California, wrote, “This is an excellent program and may have saved me from going blind — I can’t thank you enough!” Together, we can save sight and lives. 

    Interested in becoming an EyeCare America volunteer? Visit aao.org/eyecareamerica.