White Canes give a second chance at sight

Shirley and Sam Erwin of Bremerton are grateful to be able to go out into their backyard and see their beautiful flower garden every morning. Both also thank Lions Clubs for being able to do so.

Lions Club International, which has local branches in Bremerton and Silverdale, is a service club whose main focus is sight and hearing. Next weekend, local Lions will be having White Canes Days, in which they will be out in front of grocery stores handing out little white canes to everyone who walks by. In return, the Lions ask for a donation that will go to benefit the Northwest Lions Foundation for Sight and Hearing. The foundation helps pay for eye surgeries and equipment to help the blind, such as braille equipment, for those who can not afford them.

The Bremerton Central Lions will be in front of the Safeway on Callow Avenue on Friday and Saturday and the Silverdale Dandy Lions will be in front of the Silverdale Safeway on Saturday, May 1 and Saturday May 8.

“During White Canes, all the money raised goes to help support a program that benefits people,” said Sue Chaplik, director of development for the foundation. “It’s all about giving people a better life and a better future.”

To date, the foundation has assisted with more than 26,000 cornea transplants. Last year alone, the foundation helped more than 100,000 people in Washington and Northern Idaho.

Shirley knows first-hand how the donations from White Canes Days help local people. Two years ago, Shirley began having trouble seeing out of her left eye. As it turned out, she had a cataract in her eye, as well as the degenerative eye disease Fuchs dystrophy. Her ophthalmologist told her she was going to need a cornea transplant and cataract surgery.

Shirley was referred to the foundation, from which she did receive a new cornea.

Sam helped Shirley through the eye surgery process, as he already had a prior experience.

In 1963, Sam was working in construction in Arizona and got a metal shard in his left eye, one in which he already had a cataract. As a working father, he was unable to stop working and couldn’t afford to pay for the necessary surgery to get his eye fixed.

The required surgery took Sam to San Francisco, where the “experts” in that kind of surgery worked. He also got a helping hand he wasn’t expecting — the local Lions Club, which helped pay for the surgeries.

“If it hadn’t been for the Lions, I would have had to give up,” Sam said.

It’s been two years and one eye surgery for Shirley and 40 years and five eye surgeries for Sam, and now both are active and healthy at the tender age of somewhere in their 70s.

“I praise the Lions Club,” Shirley said. “I just wish I knew the person who donated the cornea.”

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