Lion of Sight

There’s a trailer parked at the Clarke County Fair this week that’s a little hard to find. The trailer doesn’t contain a maze of mirrors or unbelievable scientific abnormalities like some of the other midway destinations. Even so, many who enter this house of enlightenment come out changed for life.

Lion Sharon Hart screening trailer is located near the west end of the Clarke County Fair grandstand - Photo Edward Leonard

Clarke County Lion Clubs Club member Sharon Hart spent six months of her life becoming certified to manage the forty-foot custom-converted horse trailer that delivers hearing, vision and glaucoma testing free of charge to residents living in Lions Club service district 24-C. And since becoming certified she’s donated another ten years of her life using the vehicle to improve the lives of people that usually she has never met before.

“Our facility is a ‘wanna-be’ horse trailer but it has never had a horse in it” Hart laughs.

What the trailer does carry is hope and improved hearing and vision health for people who drop-in because they suspect that they have a sight or hearing problem or who later discover that they have a medical condition like glaucoma after receiving a referral from a Lions Club technician who has volunteered to be a screener in the mobile care facility.

Hart is just one of a team of volunteers offering free hearing and vision screening to fair-goers on Wednesday afternoon. Hart and the other Lions volunteers offer the free vision and hearing testing for no reason other than wanting to help other people.

“We see youngsters from two-years-old as well as a lot of adults who are beginning to have hearing or vision loss” Hart said. “Having good vision and hearing is important for everyone but especially children. It’s so easy for kids to learn to hate school just because they can’t hear or see as well as they should.”

The Lions Club organization provided Hart with the extensive technical training needed to setup and run the mobile screening center while Hart provided the desire to learn and the passion to assist others. She expertly demonstrate the trailer’s many state-of-the-art features that help Lions Club volunteers determine when a patient requires a medical referral for help with eyes or ears.

“We’ve got two sight testing machines, two hearing testing booths and two glaucoma testing stations” Hart says. “We also have a special vision testing unit that can be used with younger children who aren’t able to verbally communicate yet.”

Hart’s work uniform for the afternoon includes a purple polo shirt and a pair of khaki shorts. The purple shirt indicates that she is certified to manage and operate the mobile facility, a job that entails much more than just knowing how to operate the testing equipment.

“The Lions Club has its own training and certification program for the mobile vision and hearing screening units” Hart explains. “The certification includes not only hearing and vision testing but also knowing how to deploy the unit in a safe and effective way even at remote sites.”

Hart says that even though tonight the screening trailer is powered by electricity provided by the Clarke County Fair, the unit can also run on self-contained liquid propane tanks mounted near the front. And just getting the vehicle and trailer from place to place – Lions Club service area 24-C extends from the tip of northern Virginia and Winchester all the way south to Lexington and Charlottesville – is a challenge. The trailer is pulled by a heavy duty pickup truck with dual wheels.

Miss Clarke County LeslieRae Conner receives vision screening from Lion Club member Mary Gott - Photo Edward Leonard

But neither the logistical challenges of piloting the long rig nor the complexities of counseling people that may have learned for the first time that they have symptoms of glaucoma intimidate Hart. That’s probably because even after a decade as a Lions Club volunteer, she’s still too caught up in the joy of helping other to take the time to notice the risks.

“It’s an awesome feeling to know that you’ve helped someone” Hart said.

But although Hart passed the formal training needed to identify and refer hearing and vision problems to professionals, she probably already understood the challenges posed by the loss of hearing or eyesight better than most people.

Hart’s oldest daughter is totally blind.

“We have people come here all of the time that say ‘I’m blind, there’s nothing that you can do for me”” Hart said. “But that just isn’t true. The Lions Club offers lots of different services, like helping to obtain a leader dog, that can help get people back into the mainstream.”

Hart said she expects that the mobile screening unit will handle approximately 100 clients during the week of the Clarke County Fair. She said that even though she wishes that more people would stop in (no appointment is necessary and the visit is free) she readily admits that folks visiting the fair usually come with goals other than being tested for glaucoma or hearing problems.

“It’s hard to compete with the rides and cotton candy” Hart laughs.

Still, Hart said, many people will drop in just out of curiosity because their hearing isn’t quite what it used to be, or a mother will bring a child who may be struggling just a bit too much with reading to see if a vision referral may be needed. Whatever the need may be, Hart said, the Lions Club volunteers are ready to help.

“We really offer so many free services” Hart said.

In addition to a full range of vision and hearing screening equipment, Hart’s mobile facility even has a private office area where Lions Club staff can discuss assistance options with people who may not have the income needed to pay for medical necessities like a hearing aid or glasses. Hart said that in many cases the Lions Club actually provides the funding assistance to procure the needed vision or hearing help.

But for Hart, her personal payoff comes in making a difference in someone’s quality of life.

“A woman recently came in to be screened and she had no reason to believe that anything about her vision was abnormal” Hart said. “We provided glaucoma screening and noticed that there were indications of a possible problem.”

Hart, whose training includes counseling people who may require follow-on care, said that she was careful not to alarm the client but at the same time urged the woman to have her eyes examined by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Lion Sharon Hart supervises free hearing and vision screening at the Clarke County Fair - Photo Edward Leonard

“We suggested that she get an eye exam because the glaucoma indication was really high” Hart said. “She came back later and thanked us for catching the problem because she wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

“That’s what it’s all about” Hart said with a smile.

The Lions Club vision and hearing mobile screening facility will be open Thursday and Friday from 5:00pm until 8:00pm and on Saturday from 4:00pm until 8:00pm and is located near the west end of the grandstand. No appointment is required.