Safford Lions Club volunteers Cynthia Holmes and Chris Gibbs administer an eye screening on a Thatcher Middle School student Sept. 2.

Years ago, Safford Lions Club member Chris Gibbs talked a young father into letting him administer an eye exam with one of the club’s auto refractor eye screening machines at the Graham County Fair. He’ll never forget what happened next.

The machine found an abnormality and recommended the child see an ophthalmologist. Gibbs performed the screening two or three times just to be sure. The results remained the same, and it later turned out the boy had to have eye surgery.

“A couple of years later, this father came back to me and said, ‘You saved my son’s quality of life,’” Gibbs said.

Eight years ago, the club was awarded a $13,400 grant by the United Way of Graham and Greenlee County to pay for two auto refractor eye screening machines.

After club members were trained how to use them, they made arrangements with schools in Graham, Greenlee and Cochise counties to administer eye screenings to students at the beginning of every school semester.

The club also holds eye screenings at large local events like the Graham County Fair.

The machines don’t do a complete diagnosis, but they can indicate when a student should be referred to an optometrist or ophthalmologist because they either need glasses or the machines have spotted an eye abnormality.

On Thursday morning, four club members were at Thatcher Middle School.

Gibbs said the screenings can make a huge difference in a child’s quality of life.

“I’ve had personally 30 or so people that have been so thankful,” Gibbs said, “They’ll say, ‘I remember the day you told me that my son really needed to have his eyes checked by a professional.’ They didn’t know there was a problem.”

Susie Thompson, a retired Safford school teacher, became a Lions Club member because of the eye screenings.

“We want them to be able to achieve as much as they can. We don’t want their lack of vision to be a hindrance to their achievement,” Thompson said.

Each year it’s exciting to see how many more students come to school with glasses, she said. Some young children don’t know what being able to see actually means and that’s why screening children’s eyes at an early age is so important, she said.

Heather Allred, a Thatcher school nurse, said they are incredibly grateful for the Safford Lion’s Club and their willingness to work with the students. Because of the club’s equipment, what would take a nurse 20 minutes, takes a club volunteer two seconds.

“Most kids that we do refer, who don’t pass this, end up in glasses, or need to be going to the eye doctor. We have a form we send out and they bring it back after they see the eye doctor and almost every time they end up in glasses or they’re being seen by an eye doctor,” said Thatcher school nurse Rikki Innes. “That improves their education and outcome.”

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