Local doc's English Channel swim to benefit kids

Marc Lewis will soon attempt to use one rare and incredible achievement - swimming the English Channel - to help reach another: Saving the eyesight of children from around the U.S. and the world.

Lewis, an anesthesiologist at UCSD's Shiley Eye Center, will attempt to swim the 21-mile distance from Dover, England to Calais, France, in August. He is dedicating his swim to Shiley's 4sight4children program, and will attempt to use it to raise funds for the program that helps bring kids from afar to La Jolla for receive a rare surgery that can restore the eyesight of children who otherwise could be blind for life.

More than 200 children have benefited from 4sight4children (formerly known as the Blind Baby Fund), which helps provide critical corneal transplant surgery to children whose families cannot afford it. Shiley Eye Center Dr. Stuart Brown is a pioneer of the procedure, and the first to perform it on young children. It is necessitated by opacities of the cornea, which children can be born with or can incur through trauma or infections.

"Essentially, these are kids that are told they are going to be blind," Lewis said. "In the countries they come from, these surgeries have never been done. Even here in the U.S., parents (of children with corneal opacities) are told, 'Your child is going to be blind.' "

Children from San Diego, elsewhere in the U.S., and from countries including Turkey, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Russia and India have undergone corneal transplants as part of the 4sight4children program.

Brown and other Shiley surgeons perform the transplants free of charge, and Lewis has donated his services for many of the procedures. But there are still costs. The 4sight4children program pays for transportation to get patients to La Jolla. Recipients of the surgery sometimes must remain in town for over a month to receive follow-up care. Shiley Eye Center does all it can to keep costs down, Lewis said, but there are costs nonetheless.

"There's just a tremendous amount of resources involved," Lewis said.

Lewis hopes his English Channel swim will help raise some of those resources, but as it's his first foray into the world of fund-raising, he doesn't have a set goal for how many dollars he hopes to raise for 4sight4children.

"This is new to me, so I can't say, 'Well, the last time I did this...' " he said. "I just hope to raise as much as possible. Many generous people have already given, and I hope that many more will."

Lewis has been a dedicated ocean swimmer for the last 10 years, almost all of which have been spent living in La Jolla. He started out with the one-mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim, held each September at La Jolla Cove. He moved up to the 3-mile "Gatorman" division of the Rough Water Swim, then moved on to a 10-mile race. He said he felt comfortable even over 10 miles, which convinced him he was ready to consider channel swims.

He trained for 12 months for the 20.4-mile swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, and last summer became only the 121st swimmer to complete the journey. The swim took just under 10 hours.

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