Vision Outreach Program Has Clear Focus

Those without 20/20 vision know the frustration of not being able to see clearly without glasses, but those who cannot afford an eye exam live in an even more cloudy world than those who can.

The Appalachian Vision Outreach Program came to Wheeling HealthRight on Thursday with a mission to help make the “working poor” of West Virginia see more clearly. A team from the West Virginia University Eye Institute gave more than 60 area residents eye screenings, complete eye exams, referrals to specialists and fittings for glasses without cost.

“There is nothing more precious than your eyesight,” Kathleen Spielvogel, a resident of Moundsville, said.

Spielvogel hadn’t had an eye exam for about five years – doctors recommend an eye exam every one or two years – and the vision in her right eye was becoming so blurry, she described it as “driving in a fog.”

“My left eye has been doing all the work,” she said. “When I heard this clinic was coming, I said, ‘Put me on that list.’ This is a wonderful program. You don’t know how long I’ve waited for an exam – I am so thankful.”

According to Rebecca Coakley, director of the adult outreach program, the clinic serves patients who do not qualify for public assistance but cannot afford insurance for health care.

“There are a lot of free health clinics, but they typically have very little eye care available,” Rebecca Coakley, director of the adult outreach project, said. “Some patients haven’t had an eye exam in 20 years. Some even have a disease, but don’t have the means to get treated.”

Coakley said a pilot study conducted by the WVU Eye Institute and funded through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation looked at underserved and socio-economically isolated populations in West Virginia and found that though some had diseases like diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma, most people simply needed a new pair of eyeglasses but could not afford them.

Coakley estimated that 75 percent of the patients seen Thursday were given prescriptions for new glasses.

The AVOP clinic will be traveling all around West Virginia, starting in Wheeling and then going on to Huntington, Charleston, Martinsburg, Clarksburg, Beckley and Morgantown.

“These folks are a god send,” Spielvogel said. “It’ll be nice to see everything again.”