By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Josh Buxton never knows, from day to day, how well he’ll be able to see.

He’s known for a while that he has keratoconus, a thinning of the cornea that causes visual distortion. His dad, Curtis Buxton, suffers from the same condition, and underwent surgery for cornea transplants about nine years ago.

Josh’s eye doctor, Leslie Elms, told him the condition could flare up anywhere between the ages of 25 and 35.

He noticed changes to his eyesight earlier this year, then it worsened drastically in June. He’s 26.

“I went from 20/20 vision to 20/60 in a month,” he said. “And it fluctuates every day.”

His vision can also become blurry and foggy, and at times he experiences corneal folding, which makes his eyes burn and “feels like I got stung by a bee.”

His wife, Amy, cringes at this description, and says she can actually see the change in his eyes when that happens.

The couple have three daughters — Avia, Tessa and Emma.

Josh works in construction, and due to his failing eyesight he had to quit driving. In June he had to quit working altogether.

“I can’t read a tape measure,” he said. “You take for granted being able to see.”

There is, however, a medical solution. He learned from Elms that his condition can be corrected through a procedure called corneal UV-crosslinking, which can halt the progression of keratoconus.

“There’s such a small window for when I can have this surgery — it has to start progressing, but not too far,” Josh said.

If he didn’t get this surgery, he’d eventually need a corneal transplant like his dad.

But Josh’s insurance denied his request for the surgery because it was considered experimental (it was approved by the FDA in April 2016).

So Josh couldn’t work, his insurance denied the surgery, and he couldn’t pay for the $6,000 surgery out of pocket.

Then a connection in Baker City changed his situation.

One day his mom, Shari Buxton, was talking with Steve Schauer, a member of the Baker City Lions Club, which helps provide vision exams, lenses and frames on a local level.

Schauer and Gregg Hinrichsen are co-chairs of the sight and hearing committee for the local club. After hearing about Buxton’s situation, they helped him apply for the Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation’s patient care program, which was created to help Oregonians receive sight and hearing surgery or treatments they need but cannot afford

If approved, the Foundation would pay 100 percent of the cost of surgery.

Buxton’s application — which included the letter of denial from his insurance — was approved in August.

His pre-op appointment is scheduled for Sept. 20, followed by surgery for the first eye in early October at Legacy Devers Eye Institute in Portland. The second surgery will happen in early November.

If his eyes stay stable for a year, Josh can then get the second part of the surgery, called PRK.

The immediate process and surgeries will require at least six trips to Portland, and this month the Baker City Lions Club decided to cover the cost of gas, food and lodging — $1,200 — from an emergency club fund that is also supplemented by donations from Community Bank.

“This is huge, this is a big deal,” Josh said. “I really appreciate it. I can’t say that enough.”

Learn More

The Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation was founded in 1959. To learn more, visit the website www.olshf.org.

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