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A better future in sight for kids

Six-year-old Kira Rogers, with her parents, Michele and Mike, received sight-preserving medical treatment at the University of Minnesota. (Photo: Jason Wachter)

Minnesota Lions make a $3M pledge to help prevent blindness in infants and children

Six-year-old Kira Rogers doesn’t know much about the Minnesota Lions, but the Lions’ 50-year partnership with the University was intended to help children just like her.

A month after Kira was born, her mother, Michele, noticed something wrong with Kira’s right eye. “Her eyelid looked red. The next day it looked puffier. Each day it looked a little puffier,” she says.

Kira’s doctor soon referred the family to the University of Minnesota. Michele and her husband, Mike, took Kira from their home in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, to meet with University ophthalmologist Gail Summers, M.D., and later to see pediatric oncologist Marie Steiner, M.D. An MRI confirmed that Kira had a hemangioma — a fast-growing noncancerous tumor.

The tumor’s location in Kira’s eye had serious medical implications. Michele and Mike Rogers learned that as Kira grew older, the tumor would affect her sight, put pressure on her eye, and affect her visual development in that eye. With the help of University doctors, they held Kira’s hand through six years of treatment and surgeries to remove the tumor, improve the appearance of her eyelid, and preserve her sight.

Fortunately, the surgeries were successful. Now the spunky 6-year-old loves going to kindergarten — and giving hugs. Her eye is vastly improved, and her prognosis is excellent.

“I didn’t think it would end like this,” says Mike Rogers, happily. “I felt like these doctors could move mountains for us.”

Successful eye surgery has helped Kira Rogers get off to a good start in kindergarten. (Photo: Jason Wachter)

The Lions’ legacy

Success stories like Kira’s have been the impetus behind the Minnesota Lions’ longtime support of the Medical School’s Department of Ophthalmology.

In July the Minnesota Lions donated $1 million toward a new $3 million pledge to establish the Minnesota Lions Fund to Prevent Blindness in Infants and Children at the University. The money will advance research, education, and care in the Department of Ophthalmology to help children like Kira.

Department head Jay Krachmer, M.D., says the Lions’ recent pledge will have a tremendous impact. “Because of this fund, babies will not go blind due to retinopathy of prematurity, congenital cataracts, congenital glaucoma, and other sight-threatening conditions,” he says.

The pledge represents a milestone in the Lions’ dedication to the University’s work in blindness prevention and marks the 50-year partnership of the Minnesota Lions, Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, and the Department of Ophthalmology.

Minnesota Lions and University representatives celebrated their 50-year partnership and the Lions' $3 million pledge with a tour of TCF Stadium and a reception at Eastcliff.

The Minnesota Lions Eye Bank provides donor eye tissue for transplantation, research, and teaching and promotes donation through education. It has helped restore sight to more than 23,000 people.

Over the years, the Minnesota Lions have launched and sustained several other important initiatives with the University, including establishing the Lions Children’s Eye Clinic, the William H. Knobloch Retina Chair, and the Lions Macular Degeneration Center. They also helped build the Lions Research Building at the University and have garnered community support for correcting vision problems and contributed countless hours of volunteer time.

About 22,000 Lions are working on service- focused projects throughout Minnesota. “Each Lions Club has its own unique way of raising funds,” says Richard Reger, Minnesota Eye Bank, Inc., board chair. “Some have pancake feeds and fishing tournaments, but the dedication and commitment is always there to reach out to the less fortunate.”

Krachmer concurs: “When Lions see that something needs to get done, they are right up there volunteering and doing it before others even know about it,” he says. “Over these 50 years, they have said, ‘How can we help?’ That’s the relationship we have with the Minnesota Lions.”

That legacy has allowed vision experts at the University to do more for families like Kira’s, who say they are grateful that they had access to University doctors’ skill< and expertise.

“They’ve all been compassionate and aggressive — exhausting every possibility,” says Michele. “At the U, they’re finding new solutions and looking for the best treatments for the next Kira.”

By Robyn White

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