Joint effort, early screening is preventing blindness in children
1 million test milestone nears this week.


Vision screener Charlotte Singletary screens Benjamin Bumpus, 8, on Tuesday at Western Oaks Elementary School in Oklahoma City. By PAUL HELLSTERN, The Oklahoman

Mon January 15, 2007

By Carrie Coppernoll
Staff Writer

No one knew Braeden Armstrong was going blind. It wasn't until the Washington Elementary School kindergartener had a routine vision screening sponsored by Prevent Blindness Oklahoma that his mother found out something was wrong.

"I was just so thankful because they had done those screenings, said Cindy Armstrong, Braeden's mom. "His right eye was fine and it would overcompensate for his left one. Had we not done anything, he would have been blind in that left eye.

Braeden had to wear an eye patch over his strong eye so his weak eye could develop. He had to do exercises, his mom said, and practice reading using only the weak eye. Today, Braeden, now 11, doesn't even wear glasses. The early intervention saved his vision, his mother said.

Vision screenings

Prevent Blindness Oklahoma, together with the Masons of Oklahoma, provides thousands of free vision screenings statewide every year to children like Braden. Thursday, the Masons and Prevent Blindness staff will screen their 1 millionth child.

Prevent Blindness Oklahoma screeners have been testing children since 1965, programs director Becky Cunningham said, but the partnership with the Masons that began in 1986 multiplied what the nonprofit could do.

The partnership "gave us money and volunteers, and we always need both, Cunningham said. "We really couldn't do it without them.

A recent change in state law has Prevent Blindness screeners traveling even more, Cunningham said. All kindergarteners, first-graders and third-graders must be tested, she said. Last year, 15 Prevent Blindness screeners tested nearly 150,000 children statewide, Cunningham said.

The key: Masons volunteers help at each site. Two or three men usually help at each screening, recording the test results, pointing to the eye chart or even checking for lazy eye.

T.G. Bayless of the Moore lodge has traveled throughout the state as a screening volunteer. Last year, his lodge members helped test about 7,000 children in 38 schools. They've bought glasses for families who couldn't afford them, too.

"We do it because we love it, he said. "We love the kids. The kids are wonderful.