FORT MYERS, Fla. (Dec. 30, 2019) – For children in Southwest Florida suffering with serious eye conditions, their world is blurred or totally shrouded in darkness, impacting their education, family and social lives. Think of all the childhood experiences they are missing each day due to impaired vision.
Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Lee Physician Group provide ophthalmology services to children throughout Southwest Florida. For the last five years, they have had only one pediatric ophthalmologist operating in a 1,400-square-foot clinic with three examination rooms. This has created an access issue with the wait time for first available appointment exceeding six months. While they have recently added two additional ophthalmologists, there is still a critical need for eye care services in Southwest Florida.
“In response to the community’s dire need, SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc. has pledged $3 million to establish the SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Institute at Golisano Children’s Hospital to ensure that Southwest Florida children have access to treatment close to home,” said Sandy Stilwell-Youngquist, SWFL Children’s Charities board chair and co-chair of the event with Brooke Denson. “We have seen what our Southwest Florida Wine Fest community can do to enhance children’s health care when we come together and once again, we anticipate an overwhelming response to a great need for many children and families.”
During the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, auction-goers can raise their paddles in support of this year’s Fund-A-Cause to support the establishment of the SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Institute.
“Golisano and Lee Physician Group have a strategy to expand ophthalmology services in the area and the funding will enable us to recruit additional pediatric ophthalmologists, an optometrist, expand the clinic space and add new locations to improve access to care,” said Armando Llechu, chief administrative officer at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. “The new SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Institute will help us reach our goal of reducing access wait times by more than 80% and ensure that children and families in our region can remain close to home for the most advanced vision care available.”
For families like the Wardeins of Fort Myers, improving wait times for high-quality vision care brings hope for the future.
“When they told my husband and I that it would be 277 days before our son could see a specialist, I was shocked,” said Stephanie Wardein, mother of six children including 18-month-old Benedict, born with Down syndrome. “It was overwhelming. Children need their eyesight and other senses to reach their developmental milestones. It was important to correct his vision early. Thankfully, when there’s a gap in children’s health care, this community gets creative. We saw that with the building of Golisano, and now we are seeing that again.”
Celebrating its 12th year, the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest will take place Feb. 21-22, 2020. The two-day signature event, themed “Painting a Difference: Putting Kids First,” will feature Chef Vintner Dinners on Friday, Feb. 21, creatively hosted in private luxury venues across the region, followed The Grand Tasting and Live Auction on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs. Each day, guests will experience artful cuisine created by celebrated chefs and expertly paired with vintners from some of the finest and most exclusive wineries.
To learn more about the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, please visit www.swflwinefest.org.
About SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc.
SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc.’s annual signature fundraiser, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, has donated nearly $23 million over the past 11 years in support of children’s health initiatives. The 2020 event will support pediatric health care services at Golisano Children’s Hospital, as well as pediatric health care educational programs at Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College. For more information, visit www.swflwinefest.org.