MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Infants, children, and adults served by the West Virginia University Eye Institute will continue to benefit from the generosity and caring of two longtime fellow patients and friends of the Institute, Bill and Erna Atkinson.

The Atkinsons recently gave $60,000 to the Eye Institute to support the continued training of clinical staff in the use of the RetCam, a tiny retinal camera used to diagnose vision problems in infants and children. A previous gift from the Atkinsons enabled the WVU Eye Institute to purchase the RetCam.

RetCam has played a vital role in the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome and Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a potentially blinding condition affecting preterm newborns. The Atkinsons became aware of the need and potential uses for the advanced equipment during a 2009 visit with Judie Charlton, M.D., chair of ophthalmology at WVU and director of the WVU Eye Institute.

“Dr. Charlton shared the story of a young girl who was injured by shaken baby syndrome,” said Bill Atkinson. “The Eye Institute’s doctors needed this equipment to properly diagnosis the condition and improve opportunities for future patients.”

In addition to RetCam training, the Atkinson’s gift will also purchase portable equipment for the clinic, updates to the training modules for the EYESI virtual-reality surgical simulator, and fund other Eye Institute priorities.

The gifts have directly transformed the lives of many patients. As the state’s only center for pediatric ophthalmology and pediatric vision rehabilitation, the WVU Eye Institute plays a critical role in providing specialized vision care for babies and children from all 55 West Virginia counties and surrounding states.

Each year, the WVU Eye Institute sees approximately 31,000 patients of all ages through its Morgantown facility and various outreach clinics around the state. These clinics provide proper screening and treatment of eye problems that without attention, could sometimes lead to long-term vision loss.

Inspired by Mrs. Atkinson’s mother’s compassion for the blind, the Atkinsons feel they have found a way to truly make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“It sure makes us feel good,” said Erna Atkinson. “We have enough to take care of ourselves and extra to help others. Rather than sit on it, we decided to spread the wealth. While it isn’t a huge sum to donate, every little bit helps.  We haven’t experimented with other charities as we stick with the tried and true. The WVU Eye Institute is the ‘tried and true’ for us.”

For more information: Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
lr: 01-13-11