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Indianola mom joins Lions Club after family receives gift of sight

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 6/17/2022 Teresa Kay Albertson, Des Moines Register

That hamburger you're eating could help feed an area family from the Helping Hand hydroponic garden.

That ribeye sandwich you're savoring could help pay for a child's summer camp where she'll learn how to manage her recent diabetes diagnosis.

Those "screwy taters" dripping in cheese you enjoyed at last year's National Balloon Classic may have helped to give vision to a child like Joseph Carlson of Indianola for the first time in his life.

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Indianola Noon Lions Club member Andrea Carlson said her son, Joseph, was just four months old in 2015 when he received a double cornea transplant at the University of Iowa Hospitals thanks in part to the Lions Clubs of Iowa.

"Right after his second transplant we were at Walmart and I saw him holding his hands up before his eyes and wiggling his fingers," Carlson said. "The corneas were working and they were doing their job for him. That moment will stick in your head forever."

Joseph Carlson is resting quietly after his second corneal transplant in 2015. Shields were taped over his eyes to keep him from touching them. © Special to the Register Joseph Carlson is resting quietly after his second corneal transplant in 2015. Shields were taped over his eyes to keep him from touching them.

Indianola is a Lions Club community

Indianola has three Lions clubs that "serve communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding."

Supporting vision is one key program for Lions Club International. The Iowa Lions Eye Bank received 880 corneal/eye donors in 2021 and provided 624 corneas for sight-restoring surgeries.

The Noon Lions Club has stepped up its fundraising program by purchasing a new grill for cooking and selling meat sandwiches at area events. 

The new grill, costing $4,500, is a rebuilt model from Classic Grills in Riverside, Iowa. The grill was purchased with a $3,300 grant from the Warren County Philanthropic Partnership and $1,200 donated by club members.

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Indianola Noon Lions Club members Don Freeman, left, and Gary Downey, right, manage the grill at the National Balloon Classic in July 2021. The new grill is about twice the size as this grill. © Special to the Register Indianola Noon Lions Club members Don Freeman, left, and Gary Downey, right, manage the grill at the National Balloon Classic in July 2021. The new grill is about twice the size as this grill.

The club has donated money to area programs including the Helping Hand hydroponic garden, Habitat for Humanity and WeLift Job Search Assistance Center. They also give financial support to individuals, like a child attending camp this summer to learn how to manage her diabetes.

Indianola Noon Lions fundraising manager Tom Charlton is a bit dodgy when asked how much the organization raises and gives away every year.

"How much money do we raise? Let's just say not enough," Charlton said. "But we do our best."

From July 1, 2021 to May 12 of this year, the club has donated approximately $14,500 to area groups and individuals.

"Our biggest fundraising event every year is the National Balloon Classic," Charlton said. 

This year the event is July 29-August 6.

The new Lions grill is about twice as big as the previous grill. The new grill has a cooking surface of 48 inches by 60 inches. That's 20 square feet of meat grilling acreage.

The Indianola Noon Lions Club fired up its new grill at the Friday Night Summer Concert Series on June 10. The new grill offers approximately twice the grilling surface compared to the group's previous grill. The club sells grilled sandwiches at area events to raise money for local groups and individuals. So far this year the Noon Lions Club has donated more than $14,500. © Special to the Register The Indianola Noon Lions Club fired up its new grill at the Friday Night Summer Concert Series on June 10. The new grill offers approximately twice the grilling surface compared to the group's previous grill. The club sells grilled sandwiches at area events to raise money for local groups and individuals. So far this year the Noon Lions Club has donated more than $14,500.

"We have a huge menu at the National Balloon Classic. We have pork chop sandwiches, ribeye sandwiches, chicken wraps, and our signature screwy taters," Charlton said. "Let me tell you what a screwy tater is. You take a really big potato and put it on a lathe. It turns the potato into one big, long curly cue strand. We deep fry that and cover it with hot melted cheese."

Supporting the gift of sight

"My reason for becoming a Lion member was because of what the Iowa Lions Eye Bank has done for my son," Carlson said. 

Carlson joined the club in December and was active with the drive-through Santa event last Christmas. She also spoke at the state Lions convention this year about Joe's experience with the gift of sight.

"I've been a big advocate since Joseph was about a year old," Carlson said.

When Joseph was born, Carlson immediately knew something was wrong.

"His eyes didn't look like other children," Carlson said about Joseph, her fifth child. "His eyes were opaque, like they had white shading over his eyes on the outside."

Carlson noticed the issue before the medical staff. But she didn't say anything immediately. That first night, she sat up in her hospital bed nursing her baby and searching the internet for insights.

Andrea and John Carlson enjoy Caswell Beach, North Carolina, in 2020 with their five children. Left to right: Hannah, John, Andrea, Lilly and Brooklynn. Front row: Daniel and Joe. © Special to the Register Andrea and John Carlson enjoy Caswell Beach, North Carolina, in 2020 with their five children. Left to right: Hannah, John, Andrea, Lilly and Brooklynn. Front row: Daniel and Joe.

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When Carlson's doctor became aware of the problem, Joseph was seen by a specialist in West Des Moines and was quickly scheduled for appointments in Iowa City. The baby was born blind.

He was diagnosed with Peters anomaly, an extremely rare condition, and scheduled for his corneal transplants. Both of the transplant surgeries were difficult on Joseph's parents.

"There's no way to prepare yourself for something like that," Carlson said. "We were very, very excited but we were both shocked at the amount of conflicting feelings."

Carlson and her husband, John, were excited about the possibility of bringing sight to Joseph, but they were also feeling sad that a loved one had to pass away to give this gift.

"At the time we didn't know what was going on, but we were grieving for that family and their loss," Carlson said. 

Today, Joseph is enjoying summer before starting second grade at Indianola. Carlson said her son's vision isn't great, but that he's still a lucky little boy.

"Joe is considered as having low vision. But he's happy, he runs around like a crazy man and he just lives his life," Carlson said.

The Carlson family standing in the Great Salt Lake in Utah in 2018. The family was visiting for Joe, pictured holding hands with Andrea, to participate in the Transplant Games of America. The event is held every four years, much like the Olympics. © Special to the Register The Carlson family standing in the Great Salt Lake in Utah in 2018. The family was visiting for Joe, pictured holding hands with Andrea, to participate in the Transplant Games of America. The event is held every four years, much like the Olympics.

Because of some other medical issues, Joseph's vision may never be great and might even deteriorate, Carlson said. But she said she and her husband are thankful for what Joe has been given.

"We are very blessed to have gotten this far. It took me a little while to accept the future for him and what it could look like. But I know he will live his life fully regardless of whether he will have his vision or not," Carlson said.

For other parents of young children looking ahead to a life of uncertainty, Carlson has words of comfort and guidance from her experience.

"We often think it is scary to live a life without vision. But with love and proper support, Joe will live a full life whether he will be able to see us or not," Carlson said.

The Indianola Noon Lions Club will be out and about in the community this summer, cooking up meat and selling sandwiches. Charlton said the grill will be fired up June 25 at the next Indianola Friday Night Live Concert Series at Memorial Park, 302 North G Street 6-9:30 p.m.. Admission is $5, with kids under 10 admitted for free.

The Noon Lions Club grill will also be outside of West Hill Brewing Company, 219 W Salem Ave., the evening of July 1.

Iowa Lions Eye Bank supports Iowans

Iowa Lions Eye Bank executive director Esther Baker welcomes questions about support and services.

"Not everyone knows that corneas are transplantable," Baker said. 

The eye bank is located in Coralville and works strictly with corneas. The Iowa Donor Network in Altoona works with donor tissues other than corneas. As of June 16, 583 Iowans were waiting for an organ transplant.

More information is available at the Iowa Lions Eye Bank website, including a portal to sign up to become an organ donor.

Teresa Kay Albertson covers Des Moines' southern suburbs for the Register and the Indianola Record-Herald. Reach her at talbertson@registermedia.com or 515-419-6098.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Indianola mom joins Lions Club after family receives gift of sight

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