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. 

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“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.”