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New lenses help boy enjoy outdoors

September 03, 1998

Levi LankfordBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




FAIRPLAY - Levi Lankford, 9, lives in a world without color, details or enjoyment of light.

Only he and others with the same low-vision disorder can know exactly what it's like.

But with the help of the Lions Club, Levi manages to do most things that a typical Fountain Rock Elementary School fourth-grader does.

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He plays soccer, Nintendo and sometimes basketball. He rides his bike, on the C&O Canal towpath but not the road, since he can't see traffic lights.

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Lions clubs members in Williamsport and Funkstown have purchased special telescope glasses for him so that he can read the blackboard at school. They also sent him to a summer camp for children with vision problems.

Levi was born with achromatopsia, a genetic condition that affects one in 33,000 people, making them colorblind and hypersensitive to light.

Three weeks ago, Levi got something that has dramatically improved his life - red tinted contact lenses.

The lenses, which make his hazel eyes give off a reddish glow, improve his vision while shielding the sun's harsh glow.

Before, Levi had to wear dark, wrap-around sunglasses and a baseball hat to go out in the daylight. No one ever saw his face.

"Like Wilson, the neighbor on 'Home Improvement,'" Levi said.

Look at the family pictures and that's how you'll see Levi, said his mother, Sandy Lankford.

"We can see his little face now. It's a wonderful thing," she said.

Now that he's back in school, a lot of his friends have been asking why his eyes look red, he said.

He's still getting used to wearing contacts. When one occasionally has popped out, he has been able to put it back in his eye.

Dr. William Park, a specialist at the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, recommended the lenses.

Park said he has hundreds of patients with varying degrees of achromatopsia. Some cases are so severe that patients have to wear sunglasses indoors, he said.

Levi's case is not that severe, although it's not mild, either, Park said.

"For him to go out for recess would have been trial and tribulation. The contact lenses resolve that totally," he said.

Children adapt pretty well to the daily hindrances, he said.

Bill and Sandy Lankford noticed something was wrong when Levi was just two months old and his eye began moving involuntarily.

After hearing that one possibility was a brain tumor, the family was relieved to get the diagnosis, Sandy Lankford said.

They feel fortunate that his eyesight won't get any worse.

The disorder even has a some advantages.

For one, Levi has excellent night vision. When the porch light is out, the family relies on Levi to guide the way, Sandy Lankford said.

He'll also get his one minute and 40 seconds of fame next week when his story is featured on WJZ Channel 13's "Living With Hope," a series that features weekly tie-ins to "Chicago Hope."

The show is supposed to air at 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

That night's "Chicago Hope" episode is filmed Alfred Hitchcock-style in black and white, said Marjorie Centofanti, spokeswoman for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

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