Thursday, Nov. 4


ORBIS International honors first lady
Patti Blagojevich for aggressive pediatric vision initiative    
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[NOV. 4, 2004]  CHICAGO -- First lady Patti Blagojevich is the first-ever recipient of ORBIS International's Children's Legacy for Sight Award. The award is given to individuals who have shown exceptional dedication to ORBIS' mission through their work with children. ORBIS is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing unnecessary blindness around the world. Mrs. Blagojevich was honored for heading up the Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative -- the first state-sponsored campaign in the U.S. to specifically target amblyopia.

"It is an honor to accept this award from such an incredible organization," said Mrs. Blagojevich. "As a parent, I understand how important it is to give your child the best possible start in life. Amblyopia can have devastating effects on a child's vision if left untreated. That's why it is so important to raise awareness among parents and to help every child get the treatment they need."

Amblyopia, also known as "lazy eye," is the most common cause of preventable vision loss in the United States. It affects 2 percent to 3 percent of children, but many parents have never heard of it. If detected early, treatment is almost always successful, but when amblyopia goes unchecked, it can lead to blindness in one eye. Routine screening and detection before age 5 are the most effective prevention strategies.

Mrs. Blagojevich launched the Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative in April 2004, after a friend's son was diagnosed with amblyopia. Over the course of several months, Mrs. Blagojevich assembled a team of state agencies to distribute nearly 1 million English and Spanish brochures to parents, doctors, teachers and local health departments across the state. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Public Aid sent notices to physicians urging them to screen children for ocular disorders and reviewing billing procedures for screenings.

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Mrs. Blagojevich used a variety of creative tactics to reach parents whose children do not have access to regular medical checkups. The Department of Human Services shipped 300,000 brochures to local WIC clinics and 100,000 brochures to child care resource and referral agencies. The Department of Public Aid gave brochures to Medicaid-eligible families with young children. The Illinois State Board of Education distributed brochures to classroom teachers and parents with children in the Early Childhood Block Grant programs. The Department of Children and Family Services handed out 135,000 brochures to foster families, private providers of foster care and subsidized guardianship families. Brochures were also available in the first lady's tent at the state fair in Springfield and in DuQuoin.

ORBIS International is best known for its Flying Eye Hospital, which brings teams of ophthalmologists to impoverished regions of the world to conduct eye surgeries and to train local doctors. Over the last five years, ORBIS has invested millions of dollars in more than 40 projects to end childhood blindness. ORBIS has worked with local partners to establish pediatric ophthalmology centers in the developing world, many of which are the first of their kind in the region.

Mrs. Blagojevich accepted her award Wednesday evening at ORBIS' "Crystal Ball for Sight" at the Drake Hotel. United Airlines and ORBIS volunteer faculty from the Midwestern states were also honored.

[News release from the governor's office]

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