SPECIAL SMILES AND LIONS CLUBS INTERNATIONAL OPENING EYES HAVE HELPED MAKE SPECIAL OLYMPICS THE LARGEST GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH ORGANIZATION DEDICATED TO SERVING PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES.
BY STEPHANIE CORKETT
How important is it to get a second opinion? Ask any of the over 1.7 million athletes screened by the Special Olympics Health Program. In 1993, when Rosemary Kennedy went for her routine dentist visit in Wisconsin, her team of dentists recommended removal of all her teeth. To do this, however, they needed permission from her legal guardians, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Ted Kennedy, who refused to accept this recommendation and sought a second opinion from Dr. Steven Perlman, a pediatric special needs dentist in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Perlman subsequently performed an oral rehabilitation on Rosemary and was able to restore her entire dentition without the removal of any teeth. “After successfully treating Rosemary, Mrs. Shriver challenged PHOTOS PROVIDED BY STEPHANIE CORKETT/SPECIAL OLYMPICS INTERNATIONAL me to create a program within Special Olympics to provide health care for all of the athletes. At the Massachusetts State Games in 1993, my colleagues and I at Boston University screened everyone competing.” This was the moment health care changed for people with intellectual disabilities and the beginning of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes, explains Perlman. Around the same time, New Jersey optometrist Dr. Paul Berman recognized a gap in the vision care offered to people with intellectual disabilities. With Special Olympics and the American Optometric Association, Dr. Berman led the creation of vision screenings for athletes. These two programs, now known as Special Smiles and Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes, were the seedlings that have helped make Special Olympics the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.