A diagnosis of a scary-sounding disorder at a young age can cause fear and panic, but for a pair of twins, it inspired them to help others.
Matthew Denchfield, 12, of Potomac , Maryland, was diagnosed at age 4 with amblyopia (pronounced am-blee-OH-pea-uh), also known as lazy eye. The disorder causes a miscommunication between the brain and the eyes, resulting in decreased vision in one eye. Symptoms are sometimes noticeable: One eye can wander off-center. But other people don't show any obvious symptoms.
Matthew's amblyopia was so severe that he was found to be legally blind after a routine vision screening at his school.
Matthew followed a treatment plan to correct his vision to near-perfect while wearing glasses. After that experience, he and his family wanted to help other kids in need of vision care.
"I was lucky that my parents could afford to buy glasses and treatment because most people don't have that ability," Matthew said.
Matthew and his twin sister, Madison, set out to work with the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington (POB).
POB performed the vision screening at Matthew's school and provides free services in many other Washington-area schools.
Vision problems often must be spotted and corrected early in life — otherwise the damage can last a lifetime.
The twins decided to create a simple project: a donation box where people of all ages could drop off their old or unwanted glasses.
What started as a small box in their father's office has turned into a network of boxes in Washington-area schools and businesses. The program is estimated to have collected more than 700 pairs of glasses in the past nine months, according to the POB.
"The two of them, good and bad, are unstoppable when they have their minds set up," said Heather Denchfield, Matthew and Madison's mom.
"Even when we were talking about [deciding] the number of boxes, initially, we said, 'Don't you want to set it a little lower?' They said, 'No, we'll get it done,' so we don't doubt them anymore," she said.
The glasses the Denchfields collect for POB are distributed to local kids and adults, used for parts or given to an organization in New Jersey called New Eyes for the Needy, which then gives POB vouchers for new glasses.
One of the schools POB serves is the Washington Jesuit Academy in Northeast Washington. The all-boys middle school is made up of children from low-income families. The free screenings provided in school are essential to the long-term health of kids who might go without annual vision checkups.
Weldon Genies, 12, of Washington was able to play basketball and run track well enough without the proper eyewear, but in school he was having trouble reading and seeing the whiteboard.
Weldon had been wearing glasses with too weak a prescription before POB screened him. The organization provided a proper pair of lenses, and it has made all the difference.
"I thought my vision in my old glasses was pretty good, but I wasn't able to realize I could see better with better glasses," Weldon said. "Once I had [the new glasses], I was very satisfied and very thankful that the school had this program because they were very good and very kind throughout the process."
To find out where you can donate a pair of glasses, visit youreyes.org/services/eyeglasses-needy/eyeglasses-recycling.