Tom Nordstrom is moved as Dr. Mathias Fellenz presents him with a plaque naming the Tom Nordstrom Laser Room in his honour for his work in starting the Lions Vision Centre in Armstrong

Tom Nordstrom is moved as Dr. Mathias Fellenz presents him with a plaque naming the Tom Nordstrom Laser Room in his honour for his work in starting the Lions Vision Centre in Armstrong

Lions lend thousands the gift of sight

When some patients leave the operating room after cataract surgery they can see more clearly right away.

“They tell me they can read the clock on the wall when they sit up in the chair. Of course, for some of them, they have an eye patch and their vision gets better for up to six weeks. It’s really moving,” said Ione Weslowski, one of the original staff members at the Lions Vision Centre in Armstrong which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The centre provides cataract and Winnipeg eye surgery consultation with an operating room used by three area doctors. It’s almost impossible to estimate the difference the centre has made for the approximately 1,800 people who have surgery there each year.

Dr. Mathias Fellenz, a Vernon ophthalmologist who does operations at the centre, spoke at the 10th anniversary celebration May 13.

“Vision is a very central part of who we are. More than 70 per cent of the brain is for vision functions,” he told the guests, who included Lions Club members, Interior Health representatives, centre staff members and local groups which helped raise money to start the centre.

“I have always been fascinated by the beauty of light and in medical school I learned to appreciate the way light, as a laser, can be a tool to help vision. Each person is a light and there is one person who is a powerful light, who had worked with others to create good things in this community. It’s because of him that this place exists — Tom Nordstrom.”

Fellenz presented the surprised Nordstrom,  an Armstrong Lions Club member who initiated the fundraising for the centre in 1997, with a plaque naming the laser room the Tom Nordstrom Laser Room. Nordstrom, overcome with emotion, did not speak then, but later explained how he came to be involved with the Lions Vision Centre.

It started when Fellenz made a presentation to a Lions Club zone meeting about how eye surgery was being done in three different locations and the need to consolidate all the operations to one location.

“The nine area Lions Clubs from Revelstoke to Winfield agreed to take this on and raise $130,000, which we did, with a grant of $54,000 from Lions International. All kinds of vision care are part of the Lions mandate,” said Nordstrom, who walked from Armstrong to Vernon blindfolded twice as a fundraiser, meeting Vernon with Lumby Lions Club member Bernie Parent, who walked from Lumby blindfolded, as a fundraiser. There were also other community fundraisers by the Lions and other organizations.

“I am 100 per cent surprised by this. I still have tears in my eyes,” said Nordstrom. “This place is probably the most special place in Armstrong to me because I was so involved in the first place. Now they’ve put my name on part of it. It’s awesome. The centre will be here for a long time helping people. That’s what means so much to me.”

The centre opened March 21, 2001 in renovated space that had previously been used for day surgeries. In 2002, the Interior Eye Society, with president John Trainor, was formed to fundraise to provide additional equipment for the centre.

“The centre now has world state-of-the-art equipment to work with and turned this centre into a centre of excellence. We were able to donate $250,000 to the centre and had several legacy donations which are administered by the North Okanagan Community Foundation. Donations can still be made to that fund,” said Trainor.

The society disbanded in 2010, having accomplished its purpose. The centre is administered and funded by the Interior Health Authority with on-going community donations, including from the Armstrong/Spallumcheen Health Care Auxiliary.