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Making sure they can see

Dr. Mary Futch examines Jaxon Burnsed.Macclenny optometrist Dr. Mary Futch has been providing exams and glasses free of charge to a select group of students in Baker County public schools. It’s her way of giving back to the community.

“There is such a need in this county,” said Marcheta Crews, the school district’s chief nurse. “Dr. Futch didn’t want any children who truly needed vision correction to be without glasses, especially when it comes to school and learning. And being able to see properly is critical for them to adequately prepare for FCAT testing.”

A recent change in Medicaid coverage left many local children without access to vision care. Such services, once contracted to private vendors, were centralized at Shands Hospital in Jacksonville.

The distance and expense of traveling to Shands left many Baker County families without access to Medicaid-approved vision care.

That change, coupled with an ongoing awareness that many area families are in crisis due to job losses and the poor economic climate, prompted Dr. Futch to lend a helping hand.

She scheduled three days for the task. So far, students at Macclenny and Westside elementary schools, Keller Intermediate and the middle school have been seen and fitted for glasses. The final day of testing, which will involve high school students and those at the Pre-K/Kindergarten Center will take place soon.

Eligibility for the help is based on several factors. Previous health screenings at the schools in conjunction with the county health department helped screen for those who needed vision correction. Among the identified students, those whose parents were unemployed or lacked health insurance to cover vision care were made a priority.

Keller Intermediate students were bussed to Dr. Futch’s S. 6th St. office November 16 to undergo exams and fittings. They watched a movie in the lobby while exams were conducted, had lunch and went back to school with a brand new pair of glasses.

Optometry technology has progressed to the point that glasses for most of the children could be produced during the visit while they waited.

And to the delight of the students, trendy brands like Nike, Vera Bradley, XOXO and Tres Jolie were among the frames they could choose.

Dr. Futch negotiated with many of her vendors, who were generous in donating their products to her effort. Members of her staff enjoyed helping children through the different phases of the eye exam.

Technician Gail Hodges got them started with a look through a machine called a pupilometer.

The device measures the distance between a person’s pupils, which is then used to create a guide showing the technician making the glasses how to line the lenses up directly in front of each eye.

After the pupilometer, students selected their frames and then it was off to see Dr. Futch in her exam room to determine the prescriptions.

She tested for nearsightedness, farsightedness and other abnormalities. During the exam she kept up an easy, pleasant banter with students, asking questions and engaging them on a personal level.

“So, do you have trouble seeing far or near?” she asked student Jaxon Burnsed as she guided an instrument called a phoropter to his face for him to peer through. She recorded data as he looked at an eye chart through lenses of different strengths.

“What about the white board at school, any trouble seeing that? And show me how close you hold a book to your face when you read,” she asked.

“I’ve worn glasses before,” he told her.

“Well, it looks like you need them again,” she said. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you all fixed up.”

After the exam, Dr. Futch sent the prescription to the in-house lab where optician Crystal Walker, assisted by office administrator Kathy Norman, ground the poly-carbonate or plastic lenses and fit them into frames.

The most common lens prescriptions are kept in stock; others might take a few days to arrive. But in general, a pair of glasses can be produced from start to finish in about 15 minutes.

Dr. Futch and her staff served sandwiches for the kids with Firehouse Subs donating their signature kid’s fireman hats and cookies for dessert.

Ms. Crews is grateful to Dr. Futch’s office for accommodating these students through such an unselfish gesture.

“This has been such a great service to our children with this type of need,” she said. “Dr. Futch and her staff have been more than generous.”

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