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Kari Thumlert had a simple desire: to be able to maintain eye contact when conversing with other people. Thumlert was born with amblyopia, sometimes known as “wandering eye” or “lazy eye.” As a child, her condition elicited ridicule from her peers. When she told a fellow ?rstgrader that she “shut off ” her eye when it wandered, he dubbed her “Cyclops.”  The name shadowed her throughout her school years. Even as an adult, thumlert continued to feel plagued by her condition. When she spoke to others and her eye wandered, they would turn around, thinking she was looking at something behind them.  Thumlert longed to have surgery to correct the problem, but her income as a preschool teacher prohibited such a substantial expense.

Then Thumlert read on the internet about the Jules Stein Eye Institute. she took a shot and sent a letter asking if the institute had any programs to provide surgical treatment to low-income individuals. soon, thumlert received a response— and an appointment. After her initial exam, she was told that she quali?ed for surgery through a special program funded by the Annenberg Foundation, which has been making surgical and medical ophthalmic services possible for economically disadvantaged individuals since 2003. More than 50 patients without health coverage have received surgeries through the Annenberg program. The program pays for all hospital expenses, and Jules Stein Eye Institute physicians volunteer their services to perform the procedures. (The Annenberg foundation is hardly the only benefactor supporting the work being done at Jules Stein. Many others, including the Karl Kirchgessner Foundation, the L and S Milken Foundation, as well as private individuals, provide support, both for research and for care of patients who could not otherwise afford treatment. Among other programs made possible by private giving are the UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic and the Pediatric Contact Lens Program.)

Thumlert underwent outpatient surgery to correct her amlyopia in April 2006. In just a few hours, her life was completely changed. “I had terrible self-esteem before the surgery. I had no con?dence at all,” she says. “Now I walk with my head held high. I’m taken seriously now. I’m treated with respect.” Thumlert is pursuing her goal of becoming a broadcast journalist— something that would not have been possible with wandering eye. “There are no obstacles to pursuing my dreams,” she says. “Now people look me in the eye.” –– N.S.S.

Photo by John Lichtwardt

 





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