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Battling blindness: Geneva doctors among first to partner to spread word on retinal research options

Helping people fight vision loss and blindness is nothing new to the team at Geneva Eye Clinic or any other ophthalmology practice in and around the Tri-Cities.

But sometimes, just providing high-quality medical care is not enough, even for the best eye doctors. Sometimes, those living with vision loss or blindness need to know that they’re not alone and that – despite their vision loss – there are people and resources dedicated to helping them continue to live full lives.

And that’s why representatives of one local eye clinic said they have become the first to directly partner with the Foundation Fighting Blindness to help spread the word.

“Helping people with vision difficulties is what we do here,” said Lori Marco, clinical supervisor at the Geneva Eye Clinic. “So, this is a natural fit for us, to let the appropriate patients know what’s available to them.”

Last month, the Geneva Eye Clinic became one of the first three ophthalmology practices in the state to sign on as a Partner for Retinal Health with the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

The foundation, based near Baltimore with a local office in Vernon Hills, has since 1971 raised money for and directly funded research to combat a range of conditions that lead to vision loss and blindness, like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

The foundation, for instance, annually operates Visionwalk fundraiser events in the Chicago area and other locations nationwide.

In recent months, the foundation launched the Retinal Health Partner program to attempt to enlist local eye doctors in its campaign and to help them offer a more full range of treatment options to their patients.

Mary Ann Subleski, director of development for the foundation’s Midwest regional office in Vernon Hills, said the partnership will allow local eye doctors a greater breadth of information to share with their patients.

“This is especially key for newly diagnosed patients, who may be struggling,” Subleski said. “It gives them the chance to go home and contact us, so we can help them walk through a lot of this information that they have just  been handed, and help them to see they’re not alone.”

To date, Subleski said the program has enlisted three ophthalmology practices, including the Geneva Eye Clinic, DeKalb Clinic in Sycamore and Illinois Retinal Associates, a practice with several sites spread throughout Chicago’s suburbs.

Michael Horstman, executive director of the Illinois Optometric Association, said he was unfamiliar with the program. However, he said it was not uncommon for eye doctors to work closely with charitable organizations dedicated to promoting vision health or combating vision loss.

Horstman noted that many eye doctors in the state are members of a local Lions Club, a civic organization that dedicates much of its charitable efforts toward combating blindness and helping those with vision loss.

In Kane County, much of that work has been spearheaded in recent years by the Elburn Lions Club.

Club president David Broz said his group, to his knowledge, has just one eye doctor – Keith Hougas, of Eyes on Elburn – among its membership ranks.

But he said the group through the years has dedicated itself to combating vision loss, bringing in vision screening devices and offering free screenings and eye exams to local communities.

The group also promotes programs like summer camps for children with vision and hearing loss.

“Our intention is to catch vision problems as soon as possible,” Broz said. “The earlier you can catch the problems, we believe the research shows the better chance you have to correct them.”

Subleski said the Foundation Fighting Blindness hopes to continue to enlist eye care practices as partners to help centralize the fight against retinal diseases and vision loss conditions, or, at a minimum, raise awareness of the research ongoing into the conditions.

“We’re just starting to reach out through this program,” she said. “We think it’s promising.”

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