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Lions enhance long-term vision

Kevin Moore's grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather served as police officers.

In fact, his grandfather retired as a police chief in Pennsylvania. Moore who also has three uncles who served in the military or worked in law enforcement, longs to extend the family lineage as a police canine handler.

In 2000, he lost focus of that goal — literally.

A car accident left Moore blind in his right eye. Chemicals used to preserve an airbag's integrity scarred his cornea despite 24-hour flushing in the emergency room. The loss of vision left Moore wondering if he would ever fulfill his lifelong dream.

Law enforcement requires 20/25 corrected vision in at least one eye.

Yet today, Moore drives from his Spring Hill home to Everest University in Largo every weekday to take criminal justice classes. He will fulfill his quest to protect and serve because Tampa's Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research served him.

The institute, housed in an old cigar factory in Ybor City, boasts of being the world's largest eye bank and provides ocular tissue for transplants and research.

More than 30,000 men, women and children have regained their sight thanks to the institute's work, and close to 10 percent of all the transplant corneas in the nation come from right here.

Moore received his transplant in 2006. Less than 24 hours later, he was reading out of the once-blind eye.

"It's literally indescribable," Moore said of regaining his vision. "I think people take sight for granted. I used to. I thought it was something everybody had, until I lost it.

"It's truly a gift."

Interestingly, the institute's mission goes beyond providing tissue for transplants. In March, the facility expects to host visiting researchers in its new ocular research center. It'll be the first center directly connected to an eye bank, providing researchers the opportunity to conduct immediate studies of new ocular tissue.

The center even includes sleeping accommodations so scientists can get up and begin research on fresh tissue even if it arrives in the middle of the night.

It's all aimed at developing pharmaceuticals that can challenge the diseases robbing people of eyesight.

"The Lions really started a push that said, 'Why would you want to save one person's sight when we can work on and be the catalyst to possibly help millions of people,' " said Jason Woody, the institute's president and chief executive.

I have to confess: I returned a call from an official representing the institute because I thought she wanted to invite me to "For the Love of Chocolate," a fundraiser the institute foundation and Prevent Blindness Florida will stage Friday in the Eye Bank's ballroom.

Instead, she offered a tour, and I ended up learning more about the center, and how Moore's dream has crystallized thanks to the gift of sight.

Through the transplant and treatment, Moore discovered he has keratoconus, a degenerative disease that will continue to compromise his vision and require a second transplant.

Because of the institute, he knows he can't be denied his goal. Moore already has picked out a name for his first police dog that's sweeter than chocolate.

Karma.

That's all I'm saying.

Lions enhance long-term vision 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 9:14pm]
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