West Virginia University Eye Institute’s Vision Initiative for Children receives $350,000 grant

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Preschoolers in West Virginia will receive better vision screenings through a $350,000 grant awarded to West Virginia University Eye Institute’s Vision Initiative for Children (VIC).

VIC is a statewide vision-screening program that works to train, equip, and support individuals in early childhood education and healthcare, who are mandated to screen vision.

The grant, which was provided by the Children’s Eye Foundation in Texas, will enable the VIC program to extend its training workshops to West Virginia’s primary care providers and office staff. Since 2000, VIC has trained more than 1,000 community vision screeners such as Head Start personnel, school nurses, childcare providers, and preschool teachers.

Partnered with the Children’s Eye Foundation’s See By Three program, VIC is part of a plan to significantly reduce amblyopia in young children by 2010. Amblyopia, typically known as a lazy eye, occurs when one eye grows stronger than the other. If the condition remains untreated, the eye with suppressed vision is susceptible to permanent damage.

"It’s a privilege to work with the Children’s Eye Foundation on the See By Three Program as our goal for this project is very similar to the ongoing goal of See By Three,” said VIC Medical Director and Pediatric Ophthalmologist Geoffrey Bradford, M.D. “We want to improve the detection and treatment of childhood eye diseases before kids get to school.”

By identifying vision abnormalities early, children can receive more effective treatment and improved learning skills when they enter the public school system.  

Typical treatment for amblyopia includes penalizing the child’s good eye in order to stimulate the underdeveloped nerves behind the weak eye.

The penalization has historically been a patch,” said Dr. Bradford. “Nowadays, instead of a bandage-style patch, there are fun multi-colored patches, bright cloth covers for glasses and special eye drops that intentionally blur the good eye and allow the bad eye to catch up.”

Along with VIC Program Director Kay Chaplin and a small support staff, Bradford believes VIC is able to make a difference in the fight against childhood eye diseases. “We don’t have the manpower to go out and screen children ourselves,” Bradford said, “but we have the background to train people to do the screenings, so we provide the fishing pole rather than the fish, so to say.”

Chaplin travels across the state and also invites people to the WVU Eye Institute where she conducts workshops on how to perform an effective vision screening.  

“The people I have trained, who actually do the screening, like that they get to practice where they are going to train,” Chaplin said, “so it’s not just giving them reading material and a CD-Rom. I demonstrate for them and they get to practice, which makes the workshop very interactive and hands-on.”

Director of the WVU Nursery School Bobbie Warash attended a vision-screening workshop performed by Chaplin at the nursery school. “The knowledge I have gained has helped me tremendously,” Warash said. “It gives me chills to think about the children we have found who have eye diseases. What if their condition had not been discovered?”

Once vision abnormalities have been identified through a vision screening, VIC provides resources to help parents find an eye doctor in their community. By conducting a mail survey, VIC has identified about 200 community optometrists and ophthalmologists in communities across West Virginia, who are available as a resource for children with eye diseases.

“Kids should be able to receive really good care in their communities,” Bradford said. “Through VIC, kids can stay close to home for the screening and any treatment that might be needed.”

For more information about the Vision Initiative for Children at the WVU Eye Institute, visit http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/eye/vic/ or contact Program Director Kay Chaplin at (304) 598-6968.

- WVU -

For more information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, (304) 293-1412

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