MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Twin Cities are seeing another benefit from hosting the 2014 All-Star Game.
Major League Baseball and the Minnesota Twins are funding a program that provides free eye exams to people who can’t afford to see a doctor.
The Kirby Puckett Eye Mobile made its debut Friday during the All-Star FanFest at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Wednesday was the first time the public was invited to go inside for free vision screenings. The eye mobile is named after Twins Hall of Famer whose career was cut short after he was diagnosed with glaucoma.
Puckett’s children, now adults, are helping to spread the word about it. Kirby Puckett Jr. and his sister, Catherine Puckett, are now in their early 20s.
The eye mobile is staffed by doctors and nurses from Phillips Eye Institute, which is part of Allina Health. It will be set up at locations throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin, helping children and adults get the medical attention they need for their eyes.
Dr. Dan Conrad, president of Phillips Eye Institute, says there are two fully-equipped exam rooms on board.
“It’s fantastic. It provides access to more people. It allows us to screen in other places that we haven’t been able to before,” Conrad said. “And we’ll be able to take it to communities that don’t have access to this.”
The screening staff uses high-tech, hand-held devices called photo screeners. If a vision problem is detected, the patient is referred to a doctor who can prescribe contacts or glasses — free of charge.
“This is 100-percent donor funded so we can do those exams here without cost to the patient,” Conrad said.
In 1996, Kirby Puckett shared his glaucoma diagnosis with his fans. After a series of surgeries and the loss of vision in one eye, he announced his retirement at the age of 36.
His family later started the Kirby Puckett Education Center at Phillips Eye Institute to provide the community with resources to improve eye health.
“He lost his career early on due to his vision, so we want people to be able to have a future with their vision,” said Kirby Puckett Jr. “So this is the thing that’s going to help people have a good future.”
Puckett’s daughter Catherine is excited about what the eye mobile will do for children.
“I just think it’s going to do so much good for the kids that do have issues with their sight but don’t know exactly what’s going on,” Puckett said. “It will be so helpful for them.”
She says her late father would be thrilled.
“He would be so happy and excited for this, especially that the whole family has backed it. He’d be beyond proud of everybody,” she said.
Dr. Conrad says studies show students with vision problems that are not corrected do poorly in school. Poor vision can be a roadblock to learning and it makes life difficult for adults as well.
The mobile will travel to places like county fairs and festivals, as well as schools.
Click here for more information on the schedule and location of the eye mobile.