Cataract Surgery: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Since it’s still June, there’s still time to wish everyone a Happy National Cataracts Awareness Month!

I know, I know, seems like it keep coming earlier every year, doesn’t it?

Did you know that all of us – if we’re lucky to live long enough – will eventually develop cataracts? A natural part of aging, cataracts occur when the lens in your eye becomes cloudy from natural proteins that build up over time. As the condition progresses, the clouded lens allow less light to pass through your eye and your vision becomes blurred. Think about a dirty windshield that you can never clean and you’ll get the idea.

At first, the blurriness can be addressed with changes in eyeglass prescription, but if it interferes with daily activities, doctors will recommend surgery – a generally safe procedure that can take as little as 15 minutes. Almost always, the patient is able to go home within an hour or so of surgery, with someone else driving, of course. Sounds easy, but what about people lacking insurance and unable to pay the out-of-pocket expense?

Enter Mission Cataract.

The Foundation’s Mission Cataract program helps Oregonians in need that are uninsured or under insured and connects them to surgeons that partner with us to help at no cost. Our partners include Legacy Devers Eye Institute, EyeHealth NW, Cascade Eye Center in Grants Pass, Dr. Matthew Neale in Eugene, Klamath Eye Center, Dr. Martin Balish, and Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute (PCLI).

One of our most recent Mission Cataract patients, Dennis of Terrebonne, was helped by PCLI and Dr. Bryan Edgington: “We’re happy to work with the Lions to resore vision for people in need.”

Even happier is Dennis himself: “I’m so grateful to have my vision restored. Now I can go back to work, drive and enjoy my family. I didn’t realize how poor my vision was and that I had adapted to not seeing well for years. This is such a gift!”

So, to all of our Mission Cataract Partners that help us help people like Dennis, I say: Happy National Cataracts Awareness Month!

Proposals or People – What Do Nonprofits Need Most?

I wrote my first grant proposal in 1997 to fund a summer entrepreneurship project for adjudicated youth in Paterson NJ with AmeriCorps VISTA. The funder awarded us the full amount – $50,000. Beginner’s luck I thought, that was too easy!

21 years year later and the lure of grant writing still calls me. Securing grant funds from foundations, corporations and government sources for the important work of nonprofits like OLSHF is a lesson in perseverance. You get used to denials, learn how to juggle many deadlines, follow grant compliance, and wade through varied reporting requirements as well as struggle with the limitations of continual funds.

We assume grants – whether for operations or capital (bricks and mortar) projects – are a large, robust percentage of a nonprofit’s budget, right?

Well, not really.

Certainly grants are a key element of any nonprofit’s development plan.

But the real treasure is building a strong, ever-increasing donor program. In other terms, individual giving from people like you.

Historically, donations from individuals account for over two-thirds of all donations. If you add in gifts from bequests, then the category accounts for nearly 80% of all giving. (Data from https://givingusa.org/)

OLSHF has a healthy mix of income streams, including an individual donor program. But we’ve worked diligently to scale up our potential to reach more supporters and improve our donor communications plan.

In 2018-19 we anticipate almost 10% of our income for our operating budget to comprise of individual donors.

How can we do this?

Our PRIDE donor program is a perfect way to build infrastructure and increase our individual base of supporters.

Our Keep the Promise events and other “friend-raisers” (held in different regions of Oregon) provide an opportunity to meet new people and share our community impact, adding potential donors and volunteers.

The thrill of planning, writing and winning a grant award will always make my heart race a bit, but grants may come and they definitely go.

What stays and becomes a legacy are the people who believe in our mission and the varied network of people who continually support our sight and hearing programs for Oregonians in need.

Dr. Straiko – One of Our Knights of the Blind!

The Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation (OLSHF) is grateful for having vision and hearing partners throughout Oregon that discount and donate healthcare so that our most vulnerable neighbors have the gift of sight and sound, fulfilling a promise that Lions made to Helen Keller back in 1925.

When OLSHF was founded in 1959 our very first program, Patient Care, provided vision surgery and treatment here at Good Samaritan Hospital for those in need. The Patient Care program offers such services as corneal transplants, cataract surgery and avastin injections, and the patients we help owe their restored sight to our many amazing partnerships.

Now our longest-running partnership, Legacy-Devers continues to help OLSHF impact lives in new and innovative ways due to the generosity of Dr. Mike Straiko. Dr. Straiko offers one of the most recent breakthroughs in modern sight saving procedures, corneal cross linking. Cross linking addresses the issue of keratoconus, a gradual thinning of the cornea that leads to blindness, without treatment. A progressive disorder, the thinning cornea eventually bulges out, much like a basketball can when it ages.

Says Dr. Straiko: “As that cornea distorts, the patient, it’s like looking through a fun house mirror. Everything becomes distorted and they’re no longer able to function without glasses or contacts. If it progresses too far, they actually need to have their whole cornea replaced, in a corneal transplant, so they can see.”

Cross linking provides a less intrusive option to a corneal transplant, combining the use of ribolflavin and ultra-violet light in a minimally invasive outpatient procedure. Recently approved by the FDA, Dr. Straiko was the first physician to provide corneal cross linking in Oregon.

And due to the generosity of Dr. Straiko and the Devers Cornea Service at Legacy Health, the OLSHF Patient Care program has helped seven Oregonians in the past two years overcome their keratoconus condition through cross linking. One of them, Josh Buxton of Baker City, received help from Dr. Straiko in 2017.

Josh started losing his sight at 25 years and he worried how he would provide for his family of five. His doctor confirmed that he suffered from keratoconus and, lacking resources, Josh turned to his local Lions Club in Baker City. Josh worried that he’d never be able to teach his girls to hunt, fish, and camp – the activities he looked forward to sharing with them for a lifetime.

“I worried I wouldn’t be able to see them grow up, period.”

Fortunately, the Baker City Lions connected Josh with OLSHF who, in turn, partnered with Dr. Straiko.

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Straiko and the Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation” says Josh.

Now, Josh can see again and has resumed his job, no longer worrying about supporting his family. He no longer dreams about walking outside his backdoor towards the river, taking his girls on the river to fish or watching his daughter’s dance recital – he is back experiencing life!

The truth is, without partners like Dr. Straiko, OLSHF wouldn’t be able to help people in such a dramatic way, we wouldn’t be able to ‘keep the promise’ as we do now. Our appreciation for Dr. Straiko goes beyond words.

Fortunately for OLSHF, the feeling is mutual, as Dr. Straiko adds:

“I am proud to partner with the Oregon Lions Sight and hearing foundation to help these patients maintain and regain their sight. No one should go blind due to an inability to afford care in Oregon. I love what I do and I thank the Lions for helping me to provide services to those in need. I could not do it without them. Their support is invaluable and deeply appreciated.”