Lions help woman see

RAYMONDVILLE — Since she was 13, Tammie Caldwell’s been legally blind.

But the Lions Club, with the help of the community, is helping her see.

This summer, the Raymondville Lions Club, with the help of Lions clubs from Brownsville to Portland, Ore., raised $15,000 to buy her new electronic glasses to help improve her vision.

“I’m overwhelmingly grateful to the community for coming together,” Caldwell said. “The Lions were so supportive in taking on this project.”

Since she was 3, Caldwell’s worn glasses, struggling with her eyesight through her childhood.

Ten years later at Baylor College of Medicine’s Eye Institute, she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a rare genetic form of macular degeneration.

“It was a life-changing experience,” she said.

By 2007, she stopped driving.

“That was really hard,” she said. “Your independence is gone. You have to rely on other people to get from one destination to the other. Then you find out who your friends really are.”

Since she was a teenager, she’s worked at the family business, Caldwell’s Jungle Nursery.

“I have to work with all the vision I still have to be able to get around,” she said. “I still can see. I just can’t see the detail. I don’t need to hold somebody’s elbow.”

Caldwell’s fading eyesight didn’t stop her for reaching for her dreams.

In 2003, she received a certificate in culinary arts from San Antonio College.

Then in 2011, she earned an associate’s degree in substance abuse counseling from Texas State Technical College.

During the same year, she turned to the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Ore., where she was one of 13 patients from the United States and France to qualify for a clinical trial aimed at stopping Stargardt’s eyesight deterioration.

Through 2012, she traveled four times to Portland to take part in the institute’s research.

So the Lions Club helped her with airfare and lodging.

But the clinical trial wasn’t intended to improve her vision, she said.

It was supposed to try to stop her eyesight’s deterioration.

“I had to keep searching,” she said.

Then this year, Caldwell heard about eSight glasses on a national news broadcast.

“It was hope,” she said.

But the glasses cost $15,000.

“It was a really big number for glasses,” she said.

But Caldwell remembered Paul Whitworth, a Raymondville Lions Club member who owns the local newspaper, had told her the Lions Club raises money to help the blind.

After Lions Club International was founded in 1917, the organization began raising money to help blind children, said Guy Fambrough, a longtime community leader who serves as the Raymondville club’s treasurer.

At 40, Caldwell was going to be “exception,” Fambrough said.

With Whitworth’s help, the local Lions Club launched a campaign to raise money to buy her a pair of eSight glasses.

This summer, with the help of Lions’ clubs from Brownsville and Zapata to Portland, the Lions raised the money.

“We have high hopes for her,” Fambrough said.

In June, Caldwell and her mother Lily traveled to Houston, where a specialist measured her for a pair of eSight glasses.

For the first time in years, she saw the expression on her mother’s face.

“I was able to see the detail of my mom’s face,” she said. “She had that stressed look of concern — of ‘Can you see, can you see?’”

In about two weeks, Caldwell’s getting her own pair of eSight glasses.

“It’s a weight lifted,” she said. “It will open the door. I’ll still have limitations but it will be a lot better. It’s going to help me a lot in being a little more visual. A little more vision is a lot.”

But the Lions Club continues to raise money for Caldwell’s future needs, Fambrough said.

To donate, checks or money orders can be mailed to the Raymondville Lions Club, Tammie Caldwell, eSight glasses fund, First Community Bank, Account No. 008 0101, 729 E. Hidalgo Ave., Raymondville, Texas, 78580.