Local optometrist offers free infant screening

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By Stephen Knapp

By Stephen Knapp

Staff Writer

The far-sighted optometrists at the Evergreen Vision Clinic are offering local parents a quick, no-cost way to give their infant children a brighter outlook.

“We’re participating in the InfantSEE program,” says Daniel Hock, a longtime Evergreen resident and chief oculist at the Stagecoach Boulevard clinic. “The idea is to stamp out amblyopia for good.”

For those without medical credentials, he’s talking about lazy eye, a condition afflicting about 5 percent of the nation’s children whereby the brain, for no obvious reason, simply never gets in the habit of accepting input from an otherwise perfectly healthy eye, leaving the other to do all the heavy lifting. Launched in 2005 by the American Optometric Association and Johnson & Johnson’s Vision Care Institute, InfantSEE aims to identify and correct the malady before it can impact other aspects of a child’s development.

“By only using one eye, they don’t have depth perception, which will make things like driving and athletics very difficult,” Hock explains. “The worst case, and the one that always concerns me most, is that they lose their good eye to an accident or disease. They’d be blind from losing only one eye.”

Just for the asking, Hock and his colleague, Dr. Nicole Wellensiek, will inspect the peepers of any child between 6 months and 1 year old. Should one of their baby blues be asleep at the switch, the optometrists can provide an immediate and relatively easy remedy.

“It’s extremely easy to treat if you catch it early,” Hock says. “If you can remember seeing kids in school wearing eye patches, that’s how they used to treat amblyopia, but our techniques are a lot better now. We can usually correct it with vision therapy, glasses, or, in very extreme circumstances, surgery.

“But the longer it goes untreated, the harder it is to correct. If you don’t do something about it by the time they’re 12 or 13, the prognosis becomes,” he pauses, searching for a gentle way to express a very hard truth, “difficult.”

Fact is, because an infant’s curious little eyes are still a work in progress, even the best of parents rarely give much thought to their baby’s long-term ocular health. For that, Hock blames his profession.

“We haven’t done a very good job promoting the need for young children to get their eyes checked,” he says. “Everybody takes their kids to the dentist every year, but they don’t usually think about taking them to an optometrist. And 6 to 12 months is the perfect time to diagnose a variety of things that could be a problem down the road.

“During an amblyopia examination, we can also identify near- or far-sightedness, crossed eyes, astigmatism and glaucoma. Other optometrists in the program have even identified cases of retinoblastoma, and it’s saved lives.”

To schedule a no-cost amblyopia examination, call the Evergreen Vision Clinic at 303-674-4143.

Contact staff writer Stephen Knapp at stephen@evergreenco.com or 720-261-1665.