Greg Glasgow 2017-09-13 06:11:20
Rocky Mountain Lions help expand a Denver vision center, the largest of its kind in a 1,300-mile stretch. It was the Lions Club’s commitment to eyesight and vision care that drew John Harper to the organization when he was just a boy. “It goes back to when I was a child, and the Lions club used to help my grandmother, who was blind,” says Harper, 69, a resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a Lion since 1979 and an international director for Lions Clubs from 2012 to 2014. “As a kid, I always knew I wanted to be a Lion.” Harper helped put that commitment to vision into action. He served on the board of the local Lions’ foundation that helped build the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute (RMLEI) in Denver. The center opened in 2001 after a 10- year fundraising campaign. Lions in Colorado and Wyoming joined forces with the Lions Clubs International Foundation to raise half of the $12 million center, located at the campus of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Aurora. (The university raised the other half.) In 2015, the Lions raised an additional $1.3 million to expand the building from 48,000 square feet to 135,000 square feet to meet the increasing need for patient services. Specifically, the Lions helped equip 10 of 30 new clinical treatment facilities—cutting-edge, high-tech exam rooms that have greatly expanded the capability of doctors to detect and solve vision problems like retinal damage, glaucoma and macular degeneration. “We’re very grateful that my colleagues in the Lions have stepped up and have continued to support this place,” says Naresh Mandava, chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of Colorado and director of the eye center. “It’s nice to have friends throughout the region, and they’ve been wonderful ambassadors of the program. This building is always open to the Lions. We think it’s great for them to see what their investment has built.” What it has built, Mandava says, is one of the finest eye centers in the country for treatment, training and research pertaining to vision and blindness disorders and eyesight problems. The only academic eye center within a 500-mile radius of Denver, the RMLEI is the highest-volume provider of academic vision care between St. Louis and Salt Lake City. It sees more than 95,000 patient visits each year, annually trains 21 ophthalmology residents and fellows, and is home to one of the country’s largest pediatric ophthalmology groups. In 2015, Mandava recruited scientists from Johns Hopkins University for a new project that aims to use adult stem cells to restore vision. “The building is wonderful. It’s a beautiful building, but it’s the people and the activity that happens here that are truly special,” Mandava says. “It’s the physicians, the staff, the researchers, but it’s mostly about the patients. This is where they come to find solutions for their problems. I think the Lions should feel like they own a piece of that, because that’s what makes it exceptional.” The Lions’ ownership of the RMLEI is evident throughout the building. A Lions’ logo decorates the entryway, recognition plaques and banners hang on the walls of every floor and a majestic painting of lions on the savannah sits behind the main reception desk on the first floor. The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank board of directors holds its meetings at the facility, which is only too happy to welcome any Lion who wants to drop by for a visit or a tour. "Having spent my career in the health field, I’ve found the eye center to be the most rewarding part of my Lions experience.” “I’ve taken patients myself, when they’ve needed transportation—they couldn’t see to drive to Denver and needed someone to take them down for an appointment,” Harper says. “When you walk in the building and you identify that you’re a Lion, big smiles come forward and huge thankyous. Whether it’s somebody who’s working the front desk, a greeter or one of the technicians or one of the doctors, they just fall over themselves to thank you and welcome you.” Randall Stubbs, a longtime fundraiser for the ophthalmology department, has worked for years with Harper, RMLEI Foundation president Roger Hosea and other Lions in the area to help coordinate philanthropy around the eye center. It’s been a great relationship, he says—one made all the more special by the commitment the Lions organization as a whole has made to projects designed to prevent blindness, restore eyesight and improve eye health and eye care for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. “Eyesight and vision is their long-range mission. They’ve always had their eye on what they can do that really makes a difference. I have grown to appreciate and admire guys like Roger and John, who have dedicated years, if not decades, of community service and volunteer work,” Stubbs says. “There are hundreds of thousands of nonprofit organizations, but there are not a ton of them that are dedicated to eyesight. The Lions have created an organizational niche, knowing that they can’t be all things to all people, but they’re going to pick out a mission for the organization and try to do things that have really made a difference over time.” Before retiring and serving on the RMLEI Foundation board, Harper worked for years for the Wyoming Department of Health, focusing on children with special health care needs. Wyoming doesn’t have a medical school, he says, “so when we had a child who had a vision problem that needed more than what could be provided by a local ophthalmologist, we had to send them to the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia. That’s a long way from Wyoming.” Since the completion of the RMLEI, Harper says, those Wyoming kids with special vision needs now only have to go as far as Denver. “I felt like I actually had skills and knowledge and the ability to make things happen for the children in Wyoming,” he says. “Having spent my career in the health field, I’ve found the eye center to be the most rewarding part of my Lions experience.”
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