Doctors offer free exams for former Hopewell students worried on eye cancer

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — As a battle continues over whether environmental testing to look for links to a rare eye cancer is necessary at Hopewell High School where several victims were students, a parallel effort is underway to help alleviate concerns in the Huntersville community.

Eyewitness News has investigated nearly a dozen cases of ocular melanoma, which normally strikes just five people in a million. Burlington ophthalmologist Mike Brennan has been busy organizing eye doctors across North Carolina to help.

“One way to, for the moment, resolve anxiety and uncertainty (in Huntersville) is to have a comprehensive exam,” Brennan said.

That’s what Brennan and the North Carolina Society of Eye Physicians and surgeons is offering. Any current of former student of Hopewell who is worried about their own risk of eye cancer, but can’t afford an exam on their own will be offered one for free at several locations around the state.

Brennan will offer exams at his office in Burlington for former Hopewell students who may no longer live near Charlotte.

He’ll open his eye office one Saturday a month for the next year beginning in March. In Charlotte, Horizon Eye is donating doctors’ services, too. Dr. Miriam Ridley is one of those donating her time.

“We will measure for a person’s visual acuity. We’ll dilate the pupils and then have a thorough examination of the interior of the eyes,” Ridley said.

Patients will walk away from the exams knowing if they have any cancerous growth on their eyes.

“If we do find cases then we will be more concerned,” she said. “On the other hand we may find that there’s nothing, no one out there with another melanoma. So that would be reassurance, too.”

Horizon Eye has already had calls to a special phone line set up to make appointments for those concerned about the Huntersville eye cancer cases. Kathy Murray, chief operating officer at Horizon, said the company wanted to help reduce anxiety in the Huntersville area.

“We just want to give those parents peace of mind and those students peace of mind,” she said.

Parent Janie Blackstock, whose daughter Summer Heath is battling ocular melanoma, hopes Huntersville will respond.

"It’s a disease that’s creeping up and it can impact you. It’s life-threatening,” she said.

Those unable to afford an eye exam on their own can call Horizon's Huntersville Ocular Screening line at 704-341-7360.

In Burlington, eye exams will be done at Alamance Eye Center on the fourth Friday of each month beginning in March. Appointments can be made by calling 336-228-0254.

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