Lions, local doctor help the blind to see

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 19, 2012 

Dennis Gotcher of Beaufort had little to be thankful for when the turkey and dressing were served last Thanksgiving.

In May, he was laid off from his job in building maintenance.

He was slowly going blind. Everything was fading from gray to black. He had to be led around.

By Thanksgiving, he couldn't see the plate in front of him. He was told the turkey was at 12 o'clock and the green beans were at 3 o'clock.

Last week, that all changed.

"On the day I saw him in the waiting room at Dr. Jane Kokinakis' office, all he could say was 'wow,' " said Larry Mark of Beaufort. " 'Wow, now I don't even need glasses. Wow, I forgot what colors looked like. Wow ...' "

Gotcher thought his sight problem might be linked to diabetes, so he went to the emergency room. He was referred to Kokinakis, who diagnosed cataracts. But with no job and no insurance, he couldn't afford to do anything about it. She referred him to the Beaufort Lions Club.

Pat Harvey-Palmer is the club's gatekeeper for cases like this, handling a detailed process to prove true hardship.

The 55-member Beaufort club can't fund surgery, but it referred Gotcher to the S.C. Lions Charitable Services Foundation in Columbia. After due diligence and negotiations with local medical providers, the foundation paid for cataract surgery in Gotcher's left eye. Kokinakis did it on April 10. At 7:30 the next morning, Gotcher was at her Beaufort Eye Clinic to have the bandage removed.

"I was ecstatic," he said. "I could see so clearly. Colors were so vivid, I felt like I was on drugs. Everything was so clear, so colorful. I was just like wow, it had been so dark and gray and blurry for so long. It was shocking. I was thrilled. I have been singing her praises for a week."

Surely this is what Helen Keller had in mind in 1925 when she challenged Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness."

Beaufort's club is known for coordinating the annual Water Festival and Christmas parades, but president Bob Griffith of Dataw Island said it also holds pancake breakfasts and sells candy to help others with eyesight and hearing problems in numerous ways. It also works with Wounded Warriors, plays Bingo with residents in assisted living and recently planted trees at a Habitat for Humanity home.

On Monday evening, 17 yellow-vested Lions surprised Kokinakis in her office. They presented her with the highest honor of the Lions Clubs International Foundation, the Melvin Jones Fellowship, for working closely with the club to see that the underprivileged are treated.

Gotcher said, "I tried so many different avenues and everyone said, 'I'm sorry, we can't help.' The Lions Club was the only one to say, 'Yes, we'll help you. Sure. That's what we do.' Thank God for the Lions Club."

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