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Covina resident Mackenzie Martinez, 16, received training on his new Freedom Scientific Onyx HD Electronic Video Magnifier (EVM) at the Western University of Health Sciences Eye Care Institute, Los Angeles Nov. 30, 2017. The EVM allowed him to magnify text to make reading easier and even allowed a closer look out the window, a view that included Beverly Hills High School and the Hollywood sign.

“This makes my life so much easier,” Mackenzie said. “I’ll use it for reading, homework and lots of other stuff. This is a real Christmas gift. I’m very thankful for a device like this.”

Mackenzie was one of nine children with severe visual impairments who received free EVMs through a partnership between WesternU and Sight Savers America. Sight Savers America purchases the equipment, which is not covered by medical insurance plans, trains the child and their parents to use it, and places it in the homes of these children with severe visual impairment at no cost to the family. Sight Savers America will also provide extensive follow-up care until the child reaches the age of 19 to ensure the equipment is maintained and used properly.

“We feel like we would not be able to accomplish this without WesternU’s partnership,” said Sight Savers America Grants Manager Michelle Littleton. “A crucial part of this program is having our partners here on the ground in L.A. being able to connect us with children who need this equipment the most.”

The clinic was made possible by generous funding from the Karl Kirchgessner Foundation, the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation, the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation, and VFO. WesternU hosted the event at its new Eye Care Institute, Los Angeles, which specializes in low-vision rehabilitation.

“It’s wonderful we have the opportunity to serve the Los Angeles area, especially since there are a number of people who can benefit from the services we provide,” said WesternU College of Optometry Chief of Vision Rehabilitation Service Linda Pang, OD, FAAO. “I’d love to see us partner with Sight Savers America as long as we can. I’m also excited to explore other organizations who we can partner with in order to serve more patients and more families and enable people affected by vision loss and blindness to overcome their challenges. I want these children and families to know there are services, assistive devices and resources available for them to succeed.”

Inglewood resident Lilly Guzman, 11, said the EVM will help her play with her Lego Friends.

“This will help tremendously. She can do everything with it, from painting her nails to reading her math book to building her Lego systems,” said Lilly’s mother, Julie Croff. “There are so many things she wasn’t able to see that she’ll now be able to see. It’s amazing.”

Highland resident Jacob Santiago, 16, is a patient of WesternU’s Eye Care Institute in Pomona. Jacob has cone-rod dystrophy, an inherited eye disorder that causes vision loss over time as the cones and rods in the retina deteriorate.

“This is probably the best piece of equipment I’ve had,” Jacob said. “I can tell it’s going to be a lot more reliable. This is a lot more expansive on features than any piece of equipment I’ve had. The portability is amazing.”

Ladera Ranch resident Erin Spinello visited the WesternU Eye Care Institute, Los Angeles with her son, Cade, 11, who has a brain tumor between his optic nerves. She was impressed with how the Sight Savers America case specialist approached Cade in a friendly manner and used a hands-on approach.

“I saw a spark in his eye. If he’s excited about it, he’s going to use it,” Spinello said. “Having children with special needs is extremely expensive, so we’re really blessed by this donation. It’s allowing us to give Cade a better life. To do that for families is unbelievable.”