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Nonprofit View: Lions fulfill promise with research of low vision problems

In 1925, Helen Keller challenged the Lions to become Knights of the Blind in the crusade against blindness, and the Lions accepted. In 1952, Keller suggested to Dr. Arnall Patz, a researcher at the Wilmer Eye Institute, that he collaborate with the Lions in their efforts to help the blind. A partnership grew among the Lions of Multiple District 22, which includes Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The Lions Vision Research Foundation (LVRF) was formally established in 1988.

“Low vision” is vision loss that cannot be corrected by eyeglasses, medicines or surgery. Major causes of low vision are macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and inherited eye diseases. Five million people in the U.S. suffer from low vision, and 25 million people are impacted worldwide.

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In March 1991, Dr. Robert Massof, director of the Lions Vision Center, recommended that the center’s research be focused on the problem of low vision, for which there is no cure. Massof also proposed that the Lions create a $4 million endowment fund to guarantee the Lions Low Vision Center would operate in perpetuity. The Lions of Multiple District 22 and their Wilmer Eye Institute partners celebrated the achievement of the $4 million goal on May 12, 2007.

In 2009, LVRF established a fellowship program in the Lions Low Vision Center to fund a post-doctoral position specializing in low vision. LVRF is raising between $2.5 million and $2.8 million to establish the endowment of the post-doctoral fellowship, while also funding it annually. The fellowship brings doctors to The Johns Hopkins Hospital for one year of study in the field of low vision.

A community-based program designed to promote the expansion of low vision services, the Low Vision Rehabilitation Network (LOVRNET), was launched in 2013. LOVRNET’s goals are to train Lion volunteers to conduct computer-assisted telephone interviews of patients and to provide support to local eye care professionals; to create a signal portal in which ophthalmologists can refer patients or patients can refer themselves; to coordinate care by matching patients to appropriate professional services in their area; and to constantly improve the quality and effectiveness of services.

The Arnall Patz Endowment Professorship was established by the efforts of the Lions of Multiple District 22, Wilmer Residents Association members, and Patz family and friends in 2014. This professorship provides increased educational opportunities for specialists and patients, better equipment, additional staff and research in the field of low vision.

The research team at the Lions Low Vision Center continues to develop cutting-edge low vision enhancement technology, paving the way for retinal transplants and prosthetic vision through electronic chip implants. Clinical specialists provide people with low vision devices and practices that help them improve their quality of life while making the most of their remaining vision.

For more information about the Lions Low Vision Service or to set up an appointment, call the center at 410-955-0580.

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