Newman University nursing students team with local optometrists and dispensers to benefit children

Dec 13, 2010

Several children from low-income families in Wichita are able to see better today at no cost to their parents, thanks to a joint effort by Newman University nursing students and several Wichita area optometrists and optical dispensers.

The project began when the nursing students who were doing vision and blood screenings at local Catholic schools began to notice a problem. While problems are what such screenings are designed to catch, the nursing students found something they didn’t expect – some of the children had the same problems every year because they were going untreated.

Amy Siple, MSN, FNP-BC, an associate professor of nursing at Newman, talked to school nurse Mary Wiseman to learn more about the issue. Siple found that some of the students were indeed lacking the eye exams and glasses they needed because of financial constraints or lack of insurance.

“She [Wiseman] elaborated on the situation and the need,” Siple said. “She pointed out one particularly heartbreaking story of a little girl who borrows the secretary’s glasses to take her exams.”

Siple and her husband called their optometrist, Andrea Baker, O.D., who provided a free exam and pair of glasses for the student. Siple then called other optometrists Tad Baker, O.D., Andy Stephens, O.D., and Eric Lamp, O.D., who each offered one free exam. Another optometrist and a Newman University alumna, Emily Becker, O.D., has provided several free exams to children in need and has not set a limit on further exams.

Though providing free examinations can be a huge benefit to the children and their parents, the cost of glasses can quickly add up.

“One of our respiratory therapy students, Patty Roberts, approached her local parish about organizing a fundraiser to buy glasses for these children,” said Siple.

Roberts was given two vouchers for free glasses from local eyewear retailer SPECS. After SPECS manager Jason Bell was approached about providing glasses for even more children, he agreed to supply two more.

The vision service project soon gained the attention and support of other students. Siple said a group of third semester nursing students who she had not told about the vision service project heard about it through the grapevine and took up a collection. Siple came to her office one day and found that an envelope had been slipped under her door that contained $144.

“This is about the price of another three pair of glasses,” Siple said. “I just love our students.”

While the project has so far been able to supply exams and glasses to seven children with three more who are scheduled to receive care – and has even expanded to provide dental care to some children – Siple said the project is currently on hold because it needs more funding, support from optometrists and dispensaries, and a volunteer coordinator to work with Wiseman. Siple said she is hoping a Newman student will volunteer to provide the needed leadership.

“I am praying that God will convince one of our students to take the lead,” said Siple. “I will stay involved with the project as I can, but I would like to see one of Newman’s student leaders emerge.”

Anyone interested in donating services or glasses or partnering with the Newman nursing students on this project can contact Siple at 942-4291, ext. 2270.