Basalt Lions Club helps man facing blindness |

Basalt Lions Club helps man facing blindness

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
contributed photoMatthew Goodwin

Matthew Goodwin was prepared for the biggest struggle of his young life last year as his vision in one eye deteriorated to the point where he was legally blind.

Goodwin, 27, has lived about half his life knowing his eyesight was in jeopardy. It became difficult for the Basalt native to read music as a 14-year-old band student. An eye doctor concluded he had astigmatism, or irregularly shaped corneas. That is typically treated with eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Goodwin’s vision got worse over the next six months. A specialist in Denver diagnosed him with Keratoconus, a more severe issue with corneas.

Matthew’s case was bad enough that doctors told him in 1997 that he would likely need corneal transplants within a decade or he would go blind. But at that time, the transplant surgery had only about a 50-50 chance of success, Goodwin said. His doctors urged his family to wait until advances in the procedure improved the chance of success.

Goodwin has lived with the challenges, using increasingly more powerful contact lenses and simply making due with what eyesight he had. Skiing and snowboarding became too much of a challenge last winter because Goodwin lost virtually all of his depth perception. (Imagine feeling like you were skiing in flat light all the time, despite the conditions.)

As a cook at Goodfellow’s Pizza in Snowmass Village, he got used to reaching in the general direction of a knife or vegetables but having to feel around to actually locate them.

Even the simplest activities became a challenge because of his deteriorating vision in his right eye. “Cover your eye and walk down the street. It’s not that easy,” Goodwin said.

He was unable to get health insurance that covered his vision issues because of the dreaded “pre-existing condition” clause all premiums carry.

“It was a constant source of stress for me, my family and friends,” he said. “It kept me up at night.”

He was frustrated that the federal aid system was geared toward helping him only after he went blind rather than as a preventative step to keep him a productive, working member of society. It’s given him a special glimpse into the health care debate gripping the nation.

“There is no reason to be in a First World country and worrying about whether or not you’re going to go blind,” he said.

Goodwin was determined to raise the funds necessary for the transplants rather than accept going blind. He and his friends were preparing to launch fund raisers when he got the break he needed. Help was in his hometown.

Family friend Manuel Gomez, a member of the Basalt Lions Club, an international organization whose focus is on eyesight, learned of his plight. Gomez brought Goodwin’s troubles to the attention of the organization last October. The Basalt chapter, charted in May 1957, jumped at the chance to help a native son.

“Here is a young man who was going to go blind if he didn’t have a corneal transplant,” said John Spencer, a member of the Basalt Lions since 1974. The local club had never had the opportunity to help a local to that degree. It is much more common for it to buy eyeglasses for people in need, Spencer said.

Spencer took on the legwork in Goodwin’s case in April. He was a former member of the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute in Denver, so he knew many of the right contacts.

Goodwin had surgery on his right eye July 21. A specialist in Grand Junction cut his cornea out and custom fit a donated cornea to his eye. The Lions Club paid the lion’s share, of course, of the $14,000-plus procedure.

“It was definitely a long, hard road until the Lions came in and said they had money for me,” Goodwin said.

His vision is gradually improving and should be at 20/20 by October. Meanwhile, vision in his left eye is deteriorating. That cornea will be replaced next spring after his right eye is sufficiently healed. By October 2010, he could have 20/20 vision in both eyes for the first time since he was a youngster.

“It’s definitely something that’s going to open up new doors for me,” he said.

The work with Matthew has energized the Basalt Lions.

“I think this has been the most gratifying thing they they’ve seen happen,” Spencer said. “(Matthew) could see enough to get around but that’s about all. Now he’s going to lead a normal life.”

Goodwin said the experience has been “a breath of fresh air to see the community get together and do something for somebody.” In addition to the Lions, the Basalt Sunday Market helped by providing a booth for the Lions, Alpine Bank established an account and doctors at 20/20 Eyecare helped him adjust to his changing vision through the years.

Goodwin said his experience drove home the importance of tissue and organ donations. He urges Roaring Fork Valley residents to sign up to donate. Spencer believes that spirit as well as Goodwin’s direct knowledge of the challenges and the triumph of his eyesight saga make him a prime candidate to join the organization.

“I think someday Matthew will make one hell of a Lion,” he said.

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