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At least 15% of all preschoolers have an undetected eye disorder.  Most pediatric eye disorders are best treated before age five.  More than 5% percent of children born in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an eye condition that can be successfully treated and sometimes reversed if detected early on.

That's why the state of Oregon passed a law in 2013 that makes it mandatory for parents to have their children's eyes screened before enrollment in school.  The Elks are offering free vision screenings in both Head Start locations and at local libraries.  The See to Read screenings at libraries will offer parents a vision screening certificate that will count as compliance with the new rule.

More than 15% of those children screened will need to have a complete dilated eye examination.  Most children who fail a vision screening are covered by their health insurance for a comprehensive dilated eye exam.  But if there is no insurance, not all parents can afford those examinations, and it is the Oregon State Elks Association donations that make treatment possible for so many uninsured/underinsured children.  Through an Elks referral, any Oregon child  up to age 19 can come to the Elks Children’s Eye Clinic for one complimentary visit.  If further treatment is needed, local Elks lodge have held fundraisers for treatment not covered by health insurance.  Contact your local Elks lodge for an Elks referral if you know a child who may need help.

Since 1949, the Elks, through its Elks Children's Eye Clinic at OHSU's Casey Eye Institute in Portland, the Elks have donating money to support the Elks Children’s Eye clinic.   The Elks have help develop a comprehensive pediatric clinic to treat Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), amblyopia, glaucoma, cataracts, strabismus (eye muscle and alignment problems) and retinoblastoma, a rare form of ocular cancer that can be successfully treated 95 percent of the time, again, if caught in its early stages.

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which started as an organization in the 1860s, is a national fraternal order (and yes, its membership includes women) that strongly supports numerous social, charitable, patriotic and civic programs nationwide. Among its many initiatives, the Elks funds college scholarships and higher education grants, summer camps, drug resistance programs and athletics for eight million boys and girls each year.

But the Oregon Elks Association's pet project is its Oregon Elks Children's Eye Clinic, which is why the organization created an endowment. The endowment ensures that babies, children and young adults in Oregon who suffer from eye problems have access to the treatment they need. Forty percent of all children who visit the clinic each year come from families that have no health insurance or are underinsured.

So far, it's estimated that a quarter million Oregon children have been treated via the clinic, including more than 18,000 patient visits in 2015.

Most pediatric eye problems are difficult to detect without a vision screening.  Usually the child will not complain and the parent does not notice any problems. Children should be screened every year while their visual system is developing (between birth and seven years old).  If you're a parent with a young child, there are some of signs to look for when it comes to your child's ocular health. Those symptoms include:

•             frequent eye-rubbing
•             frequent squinting
•             red and/or watery eyes
•             crossed and/or wandering eyes
•             headaches
•             holding reading material closer than normal

To schedule an appointment for an eye examination, dial 503-494-3000. If you have an emergency situation that occurs outside of the clinic's normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday hours, dial 503-494-8311, and ask to speak with the on-call ophthalmologist.

The Elks Children's Eye Clinic at the Casey Eye Institute at OHSU is located at 3375 SW Terwilliger Boulevard in Portland.