Elliott Wasem’s parents never noticed any problems with his sight until a vision screening last year showed blindness in his left eye.
Elliott, now a first-grader at Hellgate Elementary School, was among the 2,600 students who participated last year in one of the free vision screenings the Missoula Southside Lions Club offered to students throughout western Montana.
During the screenings, volunteers take photos of students’ eyes on a machine that identifies potential vision problems. This week, some 900 students from Hellgate received the service again that helped save Elliott's eyesight.
“I was thinking glasses might be the worst case scenario,” said Christy Wasem, Elliott’s mother and a kindergarten teacher at Hellgate Elementary. “We had no idea.”
The young boy's parents made follow-up appointments with optometrists, eventually leading the family to the John A. Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City. His doctor determined he had an abnormal blood vessel that was leaking and causing swelling, and therefore the blindness, and diagnosed him with optic nerve edema.
Doctors think the Lions Club screening caught the problem soon after it started, opening the possibility for Elliott's sight to return with various treatments, such as injections he’s now receiving to help the vessels close and stop the dripping.
“There is some progress, but it depends on the day,” Christy Wasem said. “They're keeping it stable right now so it doesn't get worse.”
Elliott’s parents are still trying to figure out how the condition affects him in everyday life, but Wasem said he still plays soccer and reads without problems.
The screenings from the Lions Club have helped catch problems including tumors in other students, too, said Judy Lehman, the Missoula Southside Lions Club president.
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"They're not even aware they can’t see, and there’s some that get glasses, and it’s a whole new world,” Lehman said.
The organization screened almost 2,600 students last year at various schools including Drummond Elementary and High schools, Clinton Elementary School, Philipsburg Elementary School, and DeSmet Public School.
“We try to hit the schools that are not necessarily endowed enough to hire full time nurses to catch these problems,” said Monty Brekke, a volunteer for the Lions Club.
This year, they screened over 900 students at Hellgate Elementary who are in kindergarten, first, third, fifth and seventh grade.
“It’s about prevention,” said school nurse Brayden Byrne. “I want to catch something before it gets worse and hopefully take action so that if a kid is having vision impairments, we are able to get the resources they need to perform better in the classroom.”
Byrne said that it would be difficult for him to screen all of the schools' students by himself without the help of the Lions Club.
“This vision screening includes all students on those grade levels, rich, poor, it doesn't matter. They’re going to get screened,” he said.
The organization even pays for glasses and helps provide low-income families with resources for follow-up care to ensure all students get the help they need.
Brekke said the club is always in need of volunteers to help fundraise and provide services to the community such as the screenings.