Bakersfield groups help those with vision challenges

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Imagine your child trying to learn to read and not being able to properly see. Then imagine not having the money to get them glasses or even have their eyes checked.

Advanced Center for Eye Care and the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is trying to help men, women and children in Kern County who have eye conditions and don't have the money for treatment.

One of their patients is an 11-year-old named Ashlei. She was born with glaucoma, a condition being closely watched by ophthalmologist Dr. Joseph Chang.

"One eye is completely blind due to childhood glaucoma, and the other eye has glaucoma that is being controlled so that eye sees normally," said Chang, co-founder of Advanced Center for Eye Care.

The condition in her right eye is clearly visible.

"You look at that eye it doesn't look like an eye, it looks like a marble," the doctor said.

Ashlei is embarrassed by her condition, saying, "I don't really like when people stare at me."

As Ashlei gets closer to becoming a teenager, she's begun to hide her eye from the world by combing her long hair over her face.

Chang started treating Ashlei at ACE a few years ago. Ashlei is one of the many uninsured and under-insured people who benefit from the nonprofit clinic that provides medical and surgical eye care.

"When somebody comes in and they have insurance and we bill their insurance, the money we receive from that insurance payment goes to help folks who are uninsured to receive the eye care services they need at a significant discounted rate," explained Justin Cave, executive director of CVBI and ACE.

CVBI helps the blind or people with severe vision loss learn how to read and write braille and survive their surroundings.

Cave said through grant funding, the center is able to provide medical eye care, including $1 and $2 eye exams, but ACE and CVBI cannot survive on grant funding alone.

"Support from the community is our life blood, that's how every nonprofit can survive and provide services," said Cave.

Without this help, patients such as Ashlei would have to travel to other cities where she may not even get the care she needs.

"I feel like Dr. Chang is helping me with the fight," said Ashlei.

Her glaucoma is stable at this point, but Chang wants to go a step further and help Ashlei to get a prosthetic eye so that she no longer has to hide from the world.

"Just knowing that she has an option that she doesn't have to live with this handicap as a life sentence has probably already changed her life. But, again, we need to deliver on the promise so she doesn't lose that hope that we started in her," said Chang.

But getting Ashlei what she needs is very expensive, and Change is asking the community for help financing her medical costs. If you would like to help Ashlei, call ACE at (661) 215-1006.