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HELP OUT THOSE WITHOUT SIGHT

Close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine what your life would be like if that darkness became permanent. Imagine a baby born without eyesight, perfectly normal otherwise, destined to live for many decades without ever seeing how anything looks.

This is a fact of life for many even though the great majority of us take our eyesight for granted. Without proper eyesight, people lose most of their functional capacity, especially mobility and independence. A National Eye Institute survey found Americans believed that, of all disabilities, loss of eyesight would have the greatest impact on their daily lives.

More than 9 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss for people over 60, which has no proven definitive treatment. Other common causes of blindness in adults are cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic neuropathy, which can be corrected or easily treated, as long as early diagnosis is made.

Eye injuries are a leading cause of blindness in children, most of them sports related and most of which can be prevented with proper protection. Avoiding damage from ultraviolet rays is also important.

Diabetic neuropathy affects the vision of more than half of the nearly 26 million adults diagnosed with diabetes. Ninety percent of all causes of blindness from diabetes can be prevented with timely treatment (laser therapy), adequate control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As a bonus, the incidence of heart attacks and strokes also will decrease.

Assistance for the blind or visually impaired can range from simple measures, such asa white cane and a guide dog, to very sophisticated computer technology (enhanced imaging, braille, synthetic speech, optical character recognition, etc.). Many impaired can maintain their current employment or be trained for new work.

Unfortunately, many people lack the financial means or other resources to obtain training and rehabilitation, especially with babies and children.

Nearly 30 years ago, more than 150 people attended a town meeting at Pasco Hernando Community College, conducted by the Florida Division of Blind Services, which established the Suncoast Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Eventually, the name changed to the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, which has two permanent locations in Pasco and Hernando counties and provides services also in Citrus County.

It provides an early intervention program for babies, school-to-work transition for teenagers and an independent living program for adults. An employment and job placement program, a new project, is on the way.

The Lighthouse is fortunate to have a staff of dedicated and extremely efficient professionals with specialized training in visual disabilities. Some of them, including the executive director, are visually impaired and serve as real-life role models. In 2011, Lighthouse served more than 800 people from a 3-month-old to a client who was 105.

The agency is supported by the state of Florida's Division of Blind Services, the United Way of Pasco and Hernando Counties and the Pasco County government, along with many wonderful volunteers and generous donors. All money is spent locally and the charity's services are all provided free of charge to those who need help.

Its major fundraiser is the coronation ball, a kickoff event for the Chasco Fiesta, on March 23 where King Pithla and Queen Chasco are crowned each year, based on the individuals' charitable services to the community. This is a call for all people with vision to help those that have little or no eyesight, with little or no financial means.

For information see www.lvib.org or Lighthouse@lvib.org or call 727-815-0303 or 352-754-1132.

Dr. Rao Musunuru, a cardiologist, is a director for the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind and the 2010 King Pithla.

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