The Mensch List: Sarah Loew’s optimistic vision

Sarah Loew didn’t just create the Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute, which improves the lives of people with permanent vision loss — she is also a patient of the facility.

Approximately 10 years ago, when she was a 24-year-old struggling actress living in Los Angeles, doctors discovered a benign pituitary tumor in her skull. During the operation to remove it, the orbit around her left eye was accidentally shattered.

The surgery left Loew blind in her left eye. Presented with this unfamiliar challenge, Loew had to relearn how to drive and perform other tasks. 

“Every little detail, you kind of take for granted,” she said.

While still in her hospital bed, she and her family began looking for resources to help Loew adjust. They found very little in Los Angeles that provides comprehensive care for people with low vision. A subspecialty of optometry, it’s a condition that cannot be corrected by prescription glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery.

So, with the help of her parents, Fran and David Lowe, and a devoted eye surgeon, Dr. Glenville March, Loew founded the Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute (LVRI), a nonprofit organization to provide the care that she herself desperately needed. 

Story continues after the video.

“There were two options … either live with it, or get off your butt and do something about it. We chose option two,” Loew, now 34, said.

Since opening its doors this past year, LVRI has helped between 100 and 200 patients, and many more through its outreach services, Loew estimated. 

Never turning any patient away, LVRI provides low-vision patients with examinations from a specially trained optometrist and follow-up care, assistive devices that allow for independent living, occupational therapy that helps one navigate in the home or work environment and counseling for the patient and the family. 

“We’re not necessarily going to be able to get your vision back, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make your quality of life better,” said Loew, who serves on LVRI’s board of directors.

Meanwhile, she has figured out how to live with her disability. At her workplace — she works in businesses management — her computer monitors are extra-large. She also wears polycarbonate eyeglasses to protect her right eye. 

“As painful as it was, and as much as I had to figure it out for myself, all these people are now getting help because of [what happened to me],” Loew said. “And in the end, it was worth it.”

Keep Your Eyes Open

Kein v’ Lo: Snack Attack

YeLAdim talked to the LAPD and got these tips on what kids can do to stay safe — and maybe to help catch a bad guy:

  • Be aware of your surroundings on the way to and from school, at your synagogue and while hanging out with your friends.
  • If you find a note about someone wanting to hurt someone — or use a gun or knife — tell an adult immediately. If any of your friends wants to write notes like that, let them know that they could get in big-time trouble because threatening notes are no joke to the police.
  • If you see packages, boxes or bags with bottles sitting near the street or in a hallway don’t touch them.
  • If you see anything or anyone in a public place that looks like they don’t belong or is acting strangely, tell a parent, a teacher or another adult you trust.
  • When it comes to safety, there’s no such thing as a tattletale.

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue.

This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about snacks at school. Many schools have removed candy, chips and sodas from campus vending machines and replaced them with what they consider healthier snacks and drinks. Also, many schools are telling parents that when they bring a treat for a child’s birthday, it should include a healthy snack, as well.

Should schools be able to say what kids can and cannot eat?

The Kein Side:

  • Many kids are gaining weight much faster than ever before, because of how easy it has been to get sugary-, fat- and salt-filled snacks during and after school. Eliminating those kinds of foods could cut down on kids’ health problems.
  • Most kids left to their own choices probably won’t pick veggies over cookies or bottled water over soda. Cutting out unhealthy snacks at school makes sure that at least during school hours, kids will be exposed to more nutritious foods.

The Zimms Can’t Wait To Go Back To School!

The Lo Side:

  • Removing sugary snacks won’t really improve health if, at the same time, schools are cutting back on time to get exercise during recess or cutting back on physical education. Offering nutrition classes would be a better idea, allowing kids to feel they have a little say in what happens to their snacks.
  • A birthday is a celebration — if a child wants to have cupcakes, they should be able to — parents shouldn’t have to spend additional money on granola bars or fruit.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Back to School Shout-Outs

Get a head start on making new friends this year by sending a shout-out to your classmates, and we will print it here! Example: Sending a “Have a great year” to Mrs. Friedman’s sixth-grade class at Siman Tov Academy

— Josh A. & Laurie H. (names are optional).

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What You See Isn’t Quite What You Get

I am at my desk, trying to read papers and look at my computer screen. Sounds simple, right? Ha. This entails putting on my reading glasses when I want to look at the papers. But then to see the computer screen I need to flip the glasses up and use only my contact lenses (contacts so strong, I might add, that I should have X-ray vision). Up, down, up, down, up, where are the glasses now? My son points out that they are on the back of my head. And I have a splitting headache.

Everyone’s vision changes with age. The big shift is the one I’m struggling with: presbyopia, a hardening of the eye’s focusing lens.

“When the lens of the eye loses its elasticity, it can’t adjust to the proper shape for near vision,” said Dr. Marguerite McDonald, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University School of Medicine. And new technology makes it even tougher, as we struggle to focus on items at a variety of distances — everything from the minibuttons on our cell phones to the flashing digital signs on highways.

But the technological revolution has brought medical innovations as well.

You Never Needed Glasses Before, and You Don’t Want Them Now!

For the past decade, nearsighted people who didn’t want to wear glasses or contact lenses have been able to correct their myopia with LASIK surgery. But when it came to presbyopia, the laser procedure presented some challenges, leaving most middle-aged folks with no alternative but reading glasses. Less than two years ago, however, the FDA approved a procedure for treating presbyopia that uses radio waves to reshape the eye. Called conductive keratoplasty (CK), the whole correction takes roughly three minutes, and recovery time is about a day. (The cost — from $1,500 to $2,500 — is generally not covered by insurance.)

Here’s the unusual thing about CK: The procedure is performed on only one eye. The other eye, which sees distances well, is left alone. The brain selects the image — near or far — that it wants. “Most people’s brains are good at this, but some are not,” says Dr. Robert Maloney, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at UCLA. How can you tell beforehand whether your brain will cooperate? You wear a contact lens for one week to simulate the effect.

The risks of CK are minimal. Approximately 10 percent of patients need a touch-up to adjust their vision. Also, you may notice a glare when you drive at night (special glasses that force the eyes to work together can take care of that). And the procedure is not permanent; you may need to have it redone every few years as your presbyopia progresses.

You Wear Glasses for Nearsightedness, but Now You Can’t Read Small Print

You’ve got three options: a separate pair of prescription reading glasses; bifocals, which give you both distance and close-up correction, or progressives, which, along with distance and near correction, also give you something in between. But you may find progressive lenses skimpy in that midrange zone, especially if you use a computer a lot. One solution: glasses calibrated for the distance that you sit from your screen.

You Don’t Want to Give Up Your Contacts

That would be me. But my lenses just aren’t doing the job up close anymore. Some people can get by with nonprescription (magnifying only) reading glasses, which they wear with their contacts. But, again, this combo may not work at the computer. I’ve solved the problem (at least for now) with a pair of cute drugstore half-glasses that I wear with my contact lenses; this way, I can see through the glasses when I look down to read and over them when I need to look up at the screen.

Monovision contacts are another option, with one lens corrected for far vision, the other for near. They take some getting used to and, as with CK, they don’t work for everyone. There are also bifocal contacts — you get near and distance correction in both of the lenses.

You’d Love to Wear Contacts, but You Have Astigmatism

This is an irregularly shaped cornea (the clear, outermost layer of the eye); until recently, the only way to correct for it was with glasses or hard (and hard-to-wear) contact lenses. But new toric lenses have two curvatures — one for the astigmatism and one for your nearsightedness — and can be made from the same soft materials as regular contacts.

Keeping Your Eyes Healthy

• Have Regular Checkups
You need an exam every two years; make it annual starting at age 40, when your risk of developing serious problems goes up. Glaucoma (an increase in pressure within the eye) can arrive suddenly and, if left untreated, lead to blindness. Who should perform the exam? If you have a family history of eye disease, an ophthalmologist (an M.D.); otherwise, an optometrist is OK, McDonald said.

• Stop Smoking

You’ll cut your chances of developing both cataracts (clouding of the lens) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disorder that destroys central vision.

• Wear Sunglasses Whenever You’re Outside During the Day
And make sure they offer 100 percent ultraviolet protection; UV exposure can contribute to AMD, cataracts, and other disorders.

• Eat Right
Lutein, that mysterious element touted in “senior vitamins” (and found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables), may cut your risk of AMD. If you are not getting enough of the good stuff in food, take 10 to 20 milligrams a day in vitamin form, said Dr. Lylas Mogk, medical director of the Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center at Henry Ford Health Center, in Detroit.

“I Can See Clearly Now…”

Lillian Fazzi, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer and mother, is singing that old song. Until a few years ago, the 40-something Fazzi had perfect vision. Then presbyopia set in, and she found it difficult to see up close. This posed problems at work (“I couldn’t thread a needle”) and at home (“I had trouble reading to my son”). Fazzi, who didn’t want the inconvenience of glasses, consulted ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Maloney.

Maloney thought she’d be an ideal candidate for CK, which corrects for presbyopia. First, though, she had to see whether she could adjust to monovision — using one eye for distance, the other for up close.

A week’s trial with a single contact lens convinced her it would work: “I could see beautifully, though I found the actual lens uncomfortable.”

In December 2003, Fazzi underwent the procedure in Maloney’s office. First he placed numbing drops in her eye; she felt a very slight pressure — from the probe that transmits the radio waves — “and in three minutes, it was all over,” Fazzi recalled.

Recovery was just as easy — no bed rest, just antibiotic and moisturizing drops. Within three days, she had started to see more clearly, and at the end of a week, she could see perfectly. The only downside: Fazzi does have some glare when driving at night; she eliminates it by wearing special glasses.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I sew. I read. I look at the paper–and I don’t even think about it.”

Beth Levine is a writer whose essays have appeared in Redbook, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend and Newsday.

Laser Heart Surgery

My only decent pair of glasses broke en route from Los Angeles to Israel, and I took it as a sign — it was time to for corrective laser surgery, a.k.a. LASIK.

“Make sure on the day of surgery someone comes with you,” the Israeli receptionist said to me after I set my appointment.

Great. Who would I call on to come with me? If I lived in Los Angeles, someone in my family would have shepherded me. But I wasn’t comfortable asking my family in Israel to escort me.

Since I’d be wearing eye patches after the surgery, I’d at least need someone to pick me up. And since I’d be done at 4 p.m., I asked my friend Tovy to leave work an hour early to pick me up. She said it was no problem.

The surgery day arrived. As I waited on the sofa in the main office, I saw a young woman leave the surgery room with her eyes covered, her boyfriend holding her hand, guiding her.

How nice, I thought. He’ll probably make her tea when she gets home and sing her a lullaby.

I don’t need anyone, I thought. However, I did need a valium, and lucky for me it was procedure to give patients one before the surgery.

The nurse sat me down outside the surgery room and dropped an anesthetic into my eyes. I saw the blurred image of a teenager across from me.

He had just had his eyes zapped.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Scary,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

The doctors, technicians and receptionists all made it sound like the surgery was simple, quick and painless.

Then his father took his hand and led him out. That’s OK, I thought to myself. I still didn’t need anyone to hold my hand.

When it was my turn on the operating table, the doctor pried my eyelids open with a metal tool and then stuck some sort of lens onto my eye.

“You shouldn’t see anything now,” he said. “That’s normal.”

A round cylinder latched onto the lens and mechanically cut a flap on my cornea; this created a window for the laser to enter. As the machine cut my cornea, I saw black and white circles, as if it were twisting and turning my eyeball.

He repeated this procedure on the other eye. I dug my fingers into my thighs to channel the pain elsewhere.

“Now, we are moving onto the laser portion of the surgery,” the doctor said. “This will be less painful.”

“You mean it’s not over?” I asked.


I stared above and green and red dots of light seemed to shower my bullied eyes. As the laser sculpted my cornea to perfection, I heard a buzz and felt hot splatters my cheeks.

Done but dazed, I limped to a reclining chair in a post-op waiting area.

“Keep your eyes closed,” the nurse said. “Is someone here with you?”

“She’s supposed to come,” I said.

It was 4:15 p.m. and no sign of Tovy.

Unable to look outside, I looked deep inside: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dedicated boyfriend right now? A real partner? Why have I shut out love for so long? Wouldn’t life in Israel be easier if I opened myself up to love — not just a romantic thrill — but to a supportive, loving man who will hold my hand in times like these?

Where the hell is Tovy?

Tears started gushing down my face. They were supposed to be a natural side-effect of the surgery, but they seemed exacerbated by my momentary, stinging sensation of loneliness.

“Tears are pouring,” I told the nurse.

“Excellent,” she said. “Make yourself cry.”

This was one of those rare moments when it’s good for your physical health to bawl.

Tovy had trouble finding the office. When she finally arrived, she held my hand and comforted me. The tears continued to stream, but they had transformed from tears of loneliness to tears of healing. I had my health, I had good friends and I no longer had four eyes.

Maybe now that my eyes are fixed I’ll be able to envision a true and lasting romance. But it will probably take more than 10 minutes with a laser beam to smooth out my heart’s irregularities. And yet as I begin to see the world and myself more clearly, I think maybe it’d be nice to have someone hold my hand and, sometimes, wipe my tears.

Orit Arfa is a freelance writer based in Tel Aviv.