March 2008

Ripple Effect: Project Access Doctor Improves Boy's Sight

Ever since Hector Torres was 4 years old, his mother noticed, he would turn his head to look directly at whatever he wanted to see. By the time he was 17 and a student in the Wake County public schools, his peripheral vision was very poor and he had such trouble seeing at night that he couldn't drive after dark. A school system physician realized he had cataracts and recommended surgery--but his mother's job at a dry cleaner didn't provide enough income to cover the surgery. And Hector didn't have medical insurance.

So in October, school administrator Barbara Danford asked the Endowment for help. Soon Danford was talking with Pam Carpenter, the director of Project Access, a physician-led community effort that has provided health care for low-income and uninsured Wake County residents since 2000. Private donations and grants, including a grant from the Endowment, support the project, which is managed by the Wake County Medical Society in partnership with WakeMed, Rex and Duke Raleigh hospitals.

Danford asked Carpenter if there was a Project Access ophthalmologist who might consider doing Hector's surgery without charge.

Carpenter suggested Dr. Jerome J. Magolan of Southern Eye Associates in Raleigh. Magolan, who had donated medical services through Project Access since the program began, readily agreed to see Hector. When he discovered the boy had a rare genetic disease called gyrate atrophy, he also offered to evaluate Hector's younger brother and sister. He spent hours with the family, completing a battery of tests on all three children and explaining what he found.

The younger children were fine, though Magolan offered to see them again in a year for follow-up. But he saw that Hector needed surgery on both eyes to remove the cataracts and insert implants to improve his vision. He also referred the boy for dietary evaluation, to see if the metabolic disease could be slowed through a low-protein diet and vitamin B-6.

Magolan performed the first surgery, on Hector's left eye, at Duke Raleigh Hospital over the December holiday so the boy wouldn't have to miss any school.

"He can see a lot better--he was not even wearing glasses when I saw him," said Rosa Almanzar, the Project Access translator who accompanied the family on their medical visits. The three children speak English, but their mother understands only a little. "He's very grateful."

Surgery on Hector's right eye is scheduled for his spring break, and dietary treatment will be ongoing. But Magolan has let the family know that even with these steps, Hector will probably lose his vision in his 30s or 40s.

"He understood when the doctor said it," Almanzar said of Hector, "but I don't think it really registered." That news was hard for her to translate, especially when Hector's mother said she was praying for a miracle.

For now, though, Hector has clearer sight and better night vision. He is able to drive and is on track to graduate from high school this spring. He also has a new girlfriend, who he met on the Internet.

"He's very happy," Almanzar said.

Endowment Sets 2008 Priorities, Changes Application Process

"This year, the Endowment particularly encourages new proposals that build on its work promoting healthy weight and youth development," said President and CEO Kevin Cain. "We also plan to bring agencies together to examine common problems, share strategies and find opportunities for cooperation and joint funding. And we want to promote a healthy weight leadership collaborative to address opportunities for a healthier, more active Wake County." The Endowment will also continue to support agencies in their efforts to raise awareness, seek new solutions and build constituencies for their missions.

As in the past, anyone with an idea on how to improve children's health and well-being is encouraged to talk it over with Kevin Cain and Director of Operations McAllister Ross Myhra, who may both be reached at 919-571-3392. This year, the Endowment has slightly revised its grantmaking process, including the schedule by which its Board of Directors reviews proposals. Please call us for details.

Featured Resource: Child Health Report Card

Though the infant mortality rate in Wake County is consistently lower than the state's, it has jumped a little in the last five years. Low birthweight has also increased slightly, both in the state and the county. And asthma remains the leading chronic illness among the county's children. These are just some of the findings of the 2007 Wake County Child Health Report Card [pdf], prepared with Endowment support by Action for Children North Carolina.