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Special Olympics Embraces Athletes During Healthy Vision Month
“Dr. Paul’s phone call literally saved my daughter’s eyesight.”
Those were the words of Denise Bronson, mother of 23 year old Special Olympics athlete Tina Bronson.
Tina received a free vision screening as part of Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes Opening Eyes program and doctors detected a potentially devastating problem. “During the screening, we test for pressures of the eye, glaucoma testing, and her pressures were high,” said Dr, Adele Paul, O.D. Tina’s mom, Denise, said “a couple weeks later, we received a call from Dr. Paul notifying us of the problem and I thought ‘wow…I didn’t know a 23 year old could even have problems with eye pressures’ – it could have been another two years before we had her checked again otherwise.” Tina now receives comprehensive vision care, thanks to Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes program.
But Tina’s situation, sadly, is not unique. Few of the 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world receive adequate medical care for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of access, to inability to pay, or simply because medical professionals are rarely trained to treat individuals with intellectual disabilities, and are therefore, not able to properly diagnose health issues.
Special Olympics began to explore ways to address the disparities faced by its athletes, using its unique global reach and access to people with intellectual disabilities. The result was the official launch of the Healthy Athletes initiative in 1997. Since then, Healthy Athletes has provided more than 1,000,000 free health screenings to athletes in more than 100 countries and trained more than 90,000 health care professionals worldwide.
Healthy Athletes has evolved into a leading educator on the health of people with intellectual disabilities and an advocate for improved health care policies. In fact, Healthy Athletes is the world’s largest public health initiative dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities. The Healthy Athlete Software system is the largest database of health data for people with intellectual disabilities in existence.
Screenings are conducted in a fun, welcoming environment and include seven different disciplines: general fitness, podiatry, hearing, vision, dental hygiene, healthy lifestyle choices, and sports physicals.
Athletes can receive free medical supports on site, such as custom orthotics, hearing aids, and prescription eyeglasses or sports goggles. Athletes in need of additional or urgent medical care receive referrals to receive follow up care in their community.
The program’s impact has been monumental, offering life altering – and literally life-saving – opportunities for Special Olympics athletes and their families. Put simply: a healthier athlete is a better athlete!
Findings at a glance:
People with intellectual disability have a 40% higher risk than the general population for several preventable health conditions:
- 44% have obvious, untreated tooth decay
- 53% are in need of physical therapy
- 15% have low bone density
- 22% fail hearing tests
- 55% have at least one kind of skin or nail condition.
Research shows that direct intervention through Healthy Athletes has a strong positive effect:
- 70% of athletes who remembered the dental screener’s advice report that they were brushing more often
- 82% of those who received glasses report that they still wear them
Special Olympics Florida is determined to have enough resources to provide every athlete with free healthcare screenings at every Area (Special Olympics Florida has eleven geographic service areas) and State level competition, resulting in its athletes having enhanced sports experiences and improved well-being as a result of receiving critical health services.
How Can You Help?
Healthy Athletes is one of the many community transforming programs your workplace giving supports through Community Health Charities. Your support of Special Olympics Florida will not only give the power, joy and benefits of sport to more athletes, but you’ll be giving the gift of improved health and quality of life.
And if you’re a health professional…all Healthy Athletes screenings are conducted by health professionals who volunteer their time and there is a constant need for such volunteers. The time commitment is minimal and the rewards are profound. Dr. Patrick Nunan, DPM, Fit Feet program founder, says “You’ll get lots of hugs, you won’t have to deal with insurance forms, and you’ll have people who are truly grateful for what you’ve done for them. I have not met a health professional yet who has been involved in this and not had it change their life.”
To learn more about Special Olympics Florida and its Healthy Athletes program, Upcoming Events: 5/13 - 5/14 - State Summer Games - Lake Buena Vista 5/13 - Polk County Law Enforcement Charity Golf - Lakeland 5/20 - 5/21 - State Equestrian Sports Championships - Tampa 5/21 - Inspire Greatness Awards - Miami Beach
To learn more about Special Olympics Florida and its Healthy Athletes program,
5/13 - 5/14 - State Summer Games - Lake Buena Vista
5/13 - Polk County Law Enforcement Charity Golf - Lakeland
5/20 - 5/21 - State Equestrian Sports Championships - Tampa
5/21 - Inspire Greatness Awards - Miami Beach
Article Contributed by Amie Dugan, Special Olympics Florida
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