When Marilyn Lenz retired after 50 years as a registered nurse, she said she wasn’t quite ready to stop working. After joining a friend at a Saugerties Lions Club meeting and learning about the group’s focus on sight and hearing, she found that she could continue serving the community even after retirement. She joined the club.
These days, you can find her testing the vision of youth throughout Saugerties with the help of a machine the Lions call Spike. This device, the Plusoptix, is a hand-held computer that scans for vision problems, including astigmatism and eye misalignment. Children stare into the smiling face at the front of the machine. The tester can easily determine whether the child gets a “pass” or “refer,” which indicates the child should be seen by an ophthalmologist. Because it costs between $7000 and $9000, the machine is shared among a number of locations.
Even though she knew the machine did a good job of determining which children should be seen by a vision specialist, Lenz was further convinced when she tested her own granddaughter. The results from the machine were an almost exact match with the results from the eye doctor.
The Plusoptix machine, which can be used to test children between six months and six years, made its debut in Saugerties this year at four daycares, including Heidi’s House and Mother Goose.
Lenz wanted to get the school district to approve in-school testing. When she spoke to Connie Sciutto, the nurse at Riccardi Elementary, things moved quickly. Sciutto, who was impressed with the speed with which the testing could be done in the nurse’s office, brought the idea to the principal Sue Osterhoudt. Osterhoudt spoke about the program to an ad-hoc committee a week later. Soon after, Lenz tested all the kindergarteners at Riccardi.
Incoming kindergarteners at all four of Saugerties’ elementary schools will be tested prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Parents are notified if students receive a referral. The Lions Club continues to check up with these families, contacting them a month and two months after the screening to ensure that an eye doctor has been seen. In the event that the family is uninsured or cannot afford the visit or prescription lenses, the Lions Club will help pay.
One of the best aspects of the vision screening program is that it is entirely volunteer-driven, Lemz said. Another is that it can make an enormous difference in the life of a child.