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CNIB Eye Van turns 40

By Lindsay Briscoe

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Eye Van has been serving the Red Lake district for 40 years and to honour this event, the Red Lake Lions Club hosted a dinner last Thursday night at the Chukuni Anglican/United Church.
The dinner was spearheaded by Toots Everley, Diane Pertoci and the Lions Club, and attended by CNIB Eye Van staff, local medical staff and other Lions Club members. The Eye Van presented a 40th anniversary plaque to the Lions Club and Everley, who has been volunteering her time to the Eye Van since it first came to Red Lake in the summer of 1972, received a framed collection of photos depicting the bond she has established with different Eye Van staff members over the years.

Dr. Mark Bariciak of Sault Ste. Marie, the opthamologist who has been seeing local patients in the Eye Van for the last ten years, thanked Everley and the Lions Club for their hard work and dedication.

“The Lions Club throughout has been very supportive of eye care,” he said. “They’re always one of the first clubs to step up.”

Both Everley and Lions Club president Herb Kolmel in turn, expressed gratitude to the many other local organizations that have helped throughout the years as well, such as the Northwest EMS, the OPP, The Northwestern Health Unit, the hospital, and the Family Health Team.

“We couldn’t do it ourselves,” said Everley. “And now it’s kind of like a changing of the guard a little bit as the hospital takes over more and more.”

Everley said she feels confident leaving the overseeing of the Eye Van in the hands of the Family Health Team as she steps back to enjoy her retirement.

The Eye Van is a 48-foot trailer complete with a registration and waiting room, a vision screening area, and a doctor’s examination and treatment room. According to Dr. Bariciak, patients who either have or are at risk for glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic macular complications, and cataracts, are given priority and that the Eye Van saves those people from having to drive to Dryden or Kenora for routine check-ups.

Eye Van doctors are able to perform minor operations such as laser scar tissue removal or what Dr. Bariciak refers to as “removing the lumps and bumps.” With the help of a new method called Optical Coherence Tomography (OPT), they can also take high-resolution photos of the back of the eye which may help detect early signs of an eye problem before it gets worse.

The Eye Van has been improving its services and upgrading its technology since Dr. William S. Hunter came up with the idea in 1971. During his early medical career, Dr. Hunter was stationed in White Dog Falls – near Kenora – and was appalled by the lack of medical services in Ontario’s remote areas. With the help of the CNIB, a year later the Eye Van began its first tour.

The Eye Van will finish its two week visit to Red Lake on Aug. 17 and will be back in the area next year. Appointments can be made through the Family Health Team with a referral from a family doctor. For more information visit the CNIB website: www.cnib.ca.

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