Cleveland Browns and Cole Eye Institute combine efforts for healthy vision
Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, is the most common cause of vision problems in children. Left untreated, it can lead to vision loss in adults, but the condition is completely reversible when it’s caught early in childhood.
That’s the importance of the Vision First program, run by Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute. The program is supported and funded by the Cleveland Browns Foundation.
Vision First provides eye examinations for 4- to 6-year-olds enrolled in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. “This is the age group when amblyopia needs to be detected. Once a child is 8 or 9 years old, it’s very difficult to reverse,” says Elias Traboulsi, MD, who started the program in 2002 with then Cole Eye Institute Chairman Hilel Lewis, MD.
The centerpiece of the program is a customized van with two examination spaces. The van makes stops at all 83 elementary schools in the Cleveland school district and can be found at one of these schools each day during the school year. In addition to completely funding the program, the Browns Foundation also picks up the cost of glasses for each student in need, which amounts to about 600 pairs of glasses per year.
Before the Browns became involved in 2004, students were on their own to obtain glasses once they underwent an examination. Now, not only are the children fitted for glasses, but a licensed optician will arrive at a school two to three weeks following the examination to personally deliver them and make any necessary adjustments.
“You can’t put a price on the health of our youth,” says Renee Harvey, the Browns’ Director of Community Relations. “The Cleveland Browns are committed to the education, health and wellness of children, and this program was a perfect fit with our philanthropic philosophy. We feel as though it is extremely important that all children learn on as level a playing field possible, and this program allows that to happen.“
Ms. Harvey adds, “Without Vision First, many of these children would not have had the means to even get an exam. When you see the looks on these kids’ faces when they are being fitted for glasses, it makes you realize how much confidence is being instilled in them by such a small thing. Cleveland Clinic has been a great partner in this program, and we appreciate the work their staff does on a daily basis to make the program a success.”
Of the approximately 5,000 children a year who receive eye exams, 1 to 2 percent have amblyopia, Dr. Traboulsi says. “Any patient who needs more than just glasses is referred to the eye institute. The fee is waived for families without insurance.”
Unfortunately, some children don’t get the help they need. “They’re supposed to come back and see the eye doctor, but many don’t,” says Dr. Traboulsi. “We still need one or two social workers to be part of the program. Their job would be to follow up on the patients and families who do not come to their appointments.”
That would help even more children and make a huge difference in their vision as they grow older, he says.
To make a gift supporting the Vision First program, the Cole Eye Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit iSupport, our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.
Elias Traboulsi, MD
Cole Eye Institute