Daraleen Webber's life story has inspired thousands of people.
And now it has given her new eyesight, thanks to the Lions Club.
Webber is a single mom from Hardeeville who for decades has ridden the 5:45 a.m. Palmetto Breeze bus to work two jobs on Hilton Head Island – including day shifts and night shifts, holidays and weekends. She's a longtime waitress and hostess at the Hilton Head Diner, still pushed by the assurance that her four daughters can have better options in life than she did.
Three of her four daughters have earned college degrees, pieces of paper the proud mom calls her trophies. She saw education as the ticket out of an impoverished corner of South Carolina called the "Corridor of Shame."
It hasn't been easy. Webber has also worked at Popeye's, Walmart, Kroger, McDonald's – even on a construction job at Arthur Blank's oceanfront mansion.
"I've sat through three college graduation ceremonies, and it's a very overwhelming experience," she said. "I look around at these very rich people and it tells you that even if you have no money, you can still succeed."
When Webber's story was published in March, it flew around the nation on Facebook.
Four sentences in the story turned out to be the game-changer for an old eye problem that had dimmed her vision, but not her outlook:
"She can't drive because she has severe cornea problems. She has no health insurance. She has debt. She says her credit has not always been good."
A Lions Club officer from the Northeast read the story while vacationing at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton.
He called to suggest the local Lions Clubs might be able to help resolve Webber's eyesight problem.
Lions Clubs International, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, has been devoted to sight since Helen Keller challenged its national gathering in 1925 to serve the blind and deaf.
Here's how Helen Keller's challenge was carried out this spring in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
I passed the visitor's suggestion to Bob Constantine and Henry Massey of the Hilton Head Island Noon Lions Club.
Club member Jim Kondor, an optometrist, examined Webber in the Optical Solutions office of Dr. Mike Campbell.
He confirmed an earlier diagnosis of keratoconus, a condition that makes corneas irregular and cone-shaped.
Conventional glasses cannot compensate for the loss of vision. And even with glasses, Webber has been coping with visual acuity of about 20/200, when it should be 20/20.
The good news was that Webber's problem could be treated.
Dr. Mike Berzansky of Optical Solutions has worked with her to get special contact lenses, called scleral lenses.
Webber put them in for the first time recently.
Her vision was 20/30.
She can now see well enough to seek a driver's license if she wishes.
"It's like a wow moment," Kondor said. "It literally changes her life from thinking she sees things to seeing them quite clearly."
Webber said, "I'm asking God to enable me to get them in and out on my own so they can be released to me. My eyes are very sensitive and I don't like to put my hands near them. I will learn not to think about it and relax. These lenses feel a little bigger and a little thicker than regular contacts. You have to hold your head down to get them in."
She also was fitted with a new pair of glasses.
The Noon Lions Club and Optical Solutions will see that it doesn't cost her a dime.
Webber's can-do attitude has spread. She was invited to speak to a Hilton Head business group, and her regular diners and others chipped in on a 54th birthday trip to Walt Disney World with two of her daughters and four grandbabies. That was the second vacation of her working life.
Daraleen Webber had a grand vision for her girls.
Now she can see it with her own eyes.