‘No words to explain how I feel’
Blooming Prairie High School senior Preston Rieken likely had never heard of Helen Keller until he was introduced to the Blooming Prairie Lions Club.
It is because of Keller, who became blind due to a fever at 18 months of age, that Rieken has received assistance to protect his vision. He has Keratoconus, a disorder of the eye, which results in progressive thinning of the cornea.
With the help of an exceptional teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan of the Perkins School for the Blind, Helen Keller learned sign language and braille. A few years later, she learned to speak. As an adult she became a tireless advocate for people with disabilities.
In 1925, Keller attended the Lions Clubs International Convention and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
The Blooming Prairie Lions Club, with the urging of Lion Waco Vandal, helped purchase special, hard contact lenses for Preston at a cost of $1,200.
These special lenses give Preston 20/20 vision in his right eye and 20/25 vision in his left eye, his worst eye.
Lion Vandal, part owner of Vandal's Family Market, learned from one of his employees about Rieken's vision needs. His grandmother, Lori Arthaud works part time at Vandal's.
"They changed my life in a positive way and for everyone around me," said Rieken, offering a huge thank you to the Blooming Prairie Lions.
Rieken, his mother Heather Rieken and his grandmother attended a regular BP Lions meeting in May. At that time, Rieken told about his eye problems and thanked the Lions for helping him. He emotionally demonstrated sincere appreciation for the assistance he was given.
The local Lions Club, during its 64-year existence, has continually helped people who have vision needs.
Two years ago, Rieken failed an eye exam through the school. He was taken to the Shopko Eye Clinic for treatment by an ophthalmologist. "My vision was really blurry," he says.
After his first exam, he was given eye glasses. Half way through another exam, doctors referred Rieken to Mayo Health Systems in Rochester.
Mayo doctors then recommended Rieken try a hard contact lens. Things got worse.
His corneas were very thin and cone shaped.
Next step was to accept a referral to Minnesota Eye Consultants. They recommended cross linking surgery. "It's actually a procedure," related Rieken's mother Heather.
Because of abnormalities of tissues of his eyes, there was concern that Rieken would have a progression of the abnormal shape of his corneas to where there would be worsening of the ability of his eyes to produce images inside his eyes, resulting in increasing visual impairment.
The cross linking surgery procedure strengthens the cornea. It also stops the thinning of the corneas.
At his young age, Rieken's corneas are still developing. He may require a cornea transplant some day, but not until he reaches his 30s or 40s.
Rieken has another contact lens check this October in Bloomington.
The minimally invasive corneal cross linking involves applying liquid riboflavinn (Vitamin C drops) to the surface of the eye, followed by treatment with a controlled application of ultraviolet light to eliminate corneal ectasia. The light strengthens the fibers in the cornea.
Mother said she is very proud of the attitude her son has displayed while dealing with this disease.
He never questioned why he was afflicted with the disease, she shared. Instead, he went to the computer and sought to learn more about the condition.
His family has been very supportive of his condition, Rieken says. He especially thanks his mother, grandparents (Lori and Greg Arthaud), his uncle Matt Miller and his father, Jeremy Jones for constantly encouraging him in his daily life.
"Preston has always kept a great attitude and is always doing research on Keratoconus," Heather remarked. He has learned there are 200,000 cases of Keratoconus diagnosed each year. "It's more common in African American people," he interjects.
"He's a different kid," says his mother. He loves basketball and hopes to play on the varsity next season. Doctors have told him that his special lenses make it safe for him to enjoy his favorite sport.
He plays pickup basketball with his friends and with his father Jeremy who lives in Cottage Grove. "Basketball is the way we bond," Rieken says.
Hunting and fishing have always appealed to Rieken. He spends a lot of his time hunting and fishing with his grandfather Greg.
After high school, Rieken plans to attend either Vermillion Community College in Ely or Bemidji State University. He hopes to enter wildlife management.
"My dream is to move to Montana, and maybe some day, work in Yellowstone," he says.
"Take care of your eyes," Rieken recommends. "Don't rub them and always keep your hands clean before you touch your eyes," he further recommended.
He first thought it was allergies that caused his eye condition.
His eye condition caused him to be frustrated and angry at first. With his family support and support from his friends, he became a changed kid, says Heather.
"We are just grateful there was an organization like the Lions out there to help Preston with his eye care," Heather commented.
The treatment he is getting is not covered by insurance and that's why the Lions stepped in to help.
"Mom and Grandma Lori have been there for me and have worried for me," Rieken says thankfully. "They even take time off work to make sure I am safe," he adds.
He says he tries to live "a positive life." He also says he will "work hard to get his story out" to the public. "Maybe, I will start a group some day," he said.