Wednesday, November 27, 1996
Doctor has vision to
stop kids' darkness


BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The fingers, whose operations have made the blind see, nimbly leaf through a book of photos. Page after page of eyes stare back.

These are ''before'' and ''after'' surgery shots. The ''before'' pictures are not easy to face. Eyes that cross. Eyes that bulge. Eyes that barely open. Sad eyes.

The ''after'' photos show much prettier sights. Eyes looking straight ahead. Eyes that open and close. Eyes that smile.

Doc Abrahamson
Doctor Abrahamson
[ZOOM]
Dr. Ira Abrahamson continues to look at the photos of his patients. His fingers linger over the picture of a middle-aged man's face.

''He's blind in one eye,'' he says. ''I wish I could have seen him when he was 4 or 5. He'd have two eyes that are straight and can see. If only someone had gotten to him sooner."

Turning to gaze out his downtown office window, the ophthalmologist says, ''that's why I have this dream."

Taking a deep breath, he raises his voice in volume and emotion to say:

''I want to wipe out preventable blindness in children throughout the world."

The room falls silent, except for some doctor's office music seeping softly from a ceiling speaker.

Dr. Abrahamson continues to look out his window, across the Ohio River and into the hills of Kentucky.

''I thank the dear Lord I'm alive,'' he says. ''I'm 72. I had triple-bypass surgery last year. I could be dead. But the Lord was good to me. He let me live."

Working to make his dream a reality, he says, ''is going to be my way of saying thanks."

While they're young

Early detection can prevent some forms of blindness. Let the doctor explain.

''The vision a person has at the age of 6 or 7 is the sight they're going to have for the rest of their life,'' he says. ''So if you have to correct something, you must get to them and test them while they're young."

The vision screening test doesn't take long. Five minutes tops. And, it's done in three easy steps.

Step one, the flashlight. Shine it into the child's eyes. ''The way the light reflects on the pupil tells you whether the eye is turned in or out."

Step two, the eye chart. For 4-year-old patients who don't know their ABC's from their EIO's, symbols are used.

Step three, the fly. Kids put on glasses with special green lenses and look at a photo of a giant fly. If it looks like the wings wiggle, the kids giggle and there's no sign of depth perception problems.

''These tests can detect poor vision in one eye or two and can point to problems such as tumors and glaucoma,'' says Dr. Abrahamson. ''Plus, they can be administered by anyone."

Carry on

The doctor envisions these tests being given around the world by members of his club, Rotary International.

The service organization has the members: 1.2 million in 28,000 clubs spread through 155 countries.

But, it also has a full plate. Rotary is spending $400 million to eradicate polio from the planet by the year 2000.

''The board of directors has decided not to take on any other major international programs until then,'' says Rotary spokeswoman, Jane Lawicki.

A less determined man might be deterred by such a decision.

Dr. Abrahamson greets this news with one word: ''So?"

He insists the Rotary clubs ''can do two of these programs at once. Ours won't cost a thing. We intend to get donations for the test kits. All we need are the volunteers. We'll train them for free. Just wait till we make our proposal to Rotary International. We're going to get this done."

Clearly, there's no letting go of this dream.

To find out why, watch him page through his book of patients' photos.

Look into his eyes when he comes across a child whose vision defects were detected by early testing. He pours over the ''after'' surgery photo of the little face and stares at the eyes. This is more than vision restored. To him, it's a life saved.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.