On the prowl for sight

In less than a week men and women wearing blue vests will be stationed outside grocery stores and other public places with miniature white canes in hand asking for donations.

They’re not asking for personal charity, but for contributions to help Lions International achieve its goal of eliminating preventable blindness worldwide and locally supporting the Northwest Eye Bank in Seattle.

For the Bremerton Central Lions Club, the May 2 and May 3 effort is just another way club members aid the eye bank as they serve as couriers on weekends bringing cornea tissues from the eye bank to Dr. Paul Kremer, who skillfully transplants them to restore sight to his patients. Members will be at the Callow Avenue Safeway both days and at Garguiles Red Apple Market on Perry Avenue on May 2 before shifting to the Wheaton Way Albertsons on May 3.

Kremer, who performed the first corneal transplant in Kitsap County in the fall of 1993, said the techniques have changed significantly over the years and that today’s surgeries generally have shorter recovery times and better visual outcomes.

“I could not do what I do without the Lions,” he said. “Lions continue to support the eyebank through financial support, community

outreach, making people aware of the eyebank and the benefits it provides the community and finally transporting the donor corneas for transplant surgery.”

The transplants benefit people with damaged corneas from injuries, degenerations, infections and other problems which cause their corneas to become opaque or misshapen, he said.

“Corneas are donated by generous individuals with the consent of their families,” Kremer said.

It was a corneal donation that led Eileen McKinney to become a Lion and an advocate for the eye bank as well.

“In September 1993 my husband suffered an instant cardiac arrest. He had designated on his drivers license that anything salvageable would be donated,” McKinney recalled. “In January of the following year, I received a beautiful anonymous letter thanking me for the donation of his cornea, that enabled the person to see the Rose Bowl game for the first time in 20 years.”

That gift is the reason McKinney became a Lion and is involved in White Cane Days and the selling of blackberry slugs during the Blackberry Festival each year in downtown Bremerton.

Past club president Jim Lamb remembers having his sons accompany him on the trips to the Seattle and back to pick up transplant tissue from the eye bank to bring back to Silverdale.

“One time when I wasn’t available, my youngest son, who was about 18 at the time made the trip to Seattle for me,” Lamb said. “I think that my boys have certainly learned the great life lesson on giving of oneself to others.”

The trips are life-changing events and help keep things in perspective, he said.

“I must also admit that one time in my life that I was really down in the dumps, being called to make an emergency courier run really helped me get things into better prespective, my concerns suddenly seemed small as I completed my trip to Seattle,” Lamb said.

Many club members including Charley Simmons look forward to White Cane Days each year.

“There’s a heart-warming,’good feeling’ you get while participating in White Cane Days and the reward of those donors who come up to you and tell you stories of how grateful they are for the good things we Lions do in the community and especially thankful they are if they, or a member of their family, or circle of friends, have received a corneal transplant from the Lions Eye Bank,” Simmons said.

Many people express their gratitude after receiving a pair of glasses from the Lions Club and then make a donation to the cause before walking away, he said.

“There are also children, the less fortunate, and foreigners, who approach and drop in a substanial amount of money in the bucket telling us ‘thanks for your good work,’” Simmons said. “It always leaves me with a feeling of joy for helping the community.”

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