ROXBURY, NJ – Girl Scout Katherine Gardner’s goal in pushing for early-childhood full eye assessments is not just to attain her Girl Scout Gold Award; it’s also personal.

Chances are good that Gardner, 18, would not be blind in one eye had she received a full eye assessment when she was an infant.

“I didn’t get taken to an eye doctor until I was six,” said the Randolph resident and member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Succasunna. “If we’d gone earlier, they would have found out I had glaucoma and I could have had surgery earlier. That’s why it’s so important.”

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As part of her Gold Award project, Gardner secured four hours of free eye full eye assessments for children between six months old and 12 months old. The examinations will take place March 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Advanced Eye Care Associates in Ledgewood.

Parents who want to take advantage of this should call Advanced Eye Care Associates at 973-584-2020 to make an appointment, Gardner said.

'I Was Lucky'

“The Gold Award has to be sustainable and has to mean something to you,” said Gardner, who attends Morris County School of Technology. “This project, advocating for early childhood eye screenings, is very important to me ... Unfortunately, I know all too well about vision loss.”

Gardner said she “was lucky” in that surgeons were able to save her vision in one eye.

“While my dedicated parents took me to the pediatrician regularly, they were unaware of the importance of early childhood vision exams,” she said. “Pediatricians do not have the tools to perform eye exams and most often do not suggest seeing an eye doctor.”

Gardner said basic eye screenings occur in elementary school when kids are about six years old. These procedures can generally identify a need for eyeglasses, but “by this time, the visual impairments may have caused some children to have learning issues and a reduced quality of life,” Gardner noted.

More troublesome is the chance of undetected eye disease. “In the worst cases, infants can have more significant undiagnosed eye issues that can lead to permanent blindness,” she warned. One of the more common disorders is amblyopia, something found in four out of 100 children.

“Undetected and untreated, it can quickly turn into vision loss,” Gardner said. Less common is congenital pediatric glaucoma which can quickly cause blindness in youngsters, she added.

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