SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As thousands of kids across San Diego County struggle with vision problems, the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Institute is working to help them all see the world more clearly.
A team of optometrists at Shiley run the "Eyemobile," an ophthalmology office on wheels, that goes into underserved communities.
"It's very rewarding," says Dr. Rachel Lee. "The kids and the families that come through here are so grateful."
The Eyemobile visits more than 250 schools per year. Doctors use an Auto-Refractor to give an initial screening and determine which children might need eye care. It's quicker and more accurate than a screening done by a pediatrician or school nurse with an eye chart.
"Screenings at a pediatrician are very helpful," says Dr. Lee. "But there's a lot of things that are missed. So using our Auto-Refractor and screening the kids in schools helps us catch a lot more kids that are in need of glasses and care."
The kids identified as "at-risk" then get a full eye exam on the Eyemobile. If they need it, they also get a pair of glasses, which are shipped within a few weeks.
All of it, the screening, the exam, and the glasses, is free.
"For a majority of these kids, this is their first time ever getting an eye exam," says Alberto Enriquez, the Eyemobile manager. "Many of them don't even know they're not seeing correctly."
Since 2020, the Eyemobile team has conducted 238,642 vision screenings, 32,327 comprehensive dilated eye exams, detected 983 children at high risk for losing their sight, and given out 13,882 pairs of glasses.
"When they get glasses and you see their reaction when they put them on and see crystal clear, their smile when they're able to see for the first time, it's rewarding in itself," says Enriquez. "When a kid is able to read again, is able to see a letter clearly for the first time, you can see their confidence go up. You can see their smile, the way they carry themselves."
Education experts say poor vision can lead to all kinds of behavioral and academic problems. The Eyemobile helps correct that.
"We've seen hitting, biting, kicking, not listening, not being able to follow routines, because they're not able to see correctly," says Lorena Barela-Reed, the Director of Child Development Programs in the San Ysidro School District. "We've seen cases where the child was having so many challenging behaviors in the classroom. And they've done just a complete turnaround (after getting glasses). The child is behaving well, learning, picking up everything like a sponge."
The Eyemobile focuses on Title 1 Schools, Head Start programs, and underserved communities. In many cases, the parents either don't have the time or the money to get vision care for their kids. Bringing the screenings to the schools helps solve both problems.
"It's wonderful," says Magdalena Murillo, whose granddaughter Mila got glasses at a recent screening. "You don't have to worry about making an appointment or waiting in lines. If you have two or more kids, you don't have to haul everyone to a clinic. This way it's more accessible so there's more chance of it getting done."
The back of the Eyemobile is painted with a mural that reads, "Giving kids the world to see." It's helping fulfill a vision of a better future for all of San Diego's children.
ABC 10News is partnering with the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Institute to raise $20,000 in 20 days for 20/20 vision. If you'd like to donate, click here.