Mario: Restored Confidence, Transformed Life

Mario with Lloyd Bell and Liz Rosales, the pair who helped him get his prosthesisMario is crazy about soccer. He moved to the U.S. from Guatemala ten years ago when he was 19, and between pick-up games after work and playing in leagues on the weekend, he made a lot of friends and quickly built a great community for himself in Arlington.

Back in 2009, an accident during one of his games left Mario nearly blind in one eye. Arlington Free Clinic reached out to the Arlington South Lions Club, the local chapter of an international volunteer group known for its work restoring sight and preventing blindness. Lions coordinated with an eye surgeon in the area who attempted to remove Mario’s cataract. Unfortunately, there was too much tissue damage and the limited vision he had disappeared completely after surgery. After many more procedures and consultations, it was determined that nothing else could be done to restore Mario’s sight in that eye, or address its appearance.

Mario adjusted to vision-loss more easily than he anticipated, but the stares that his injured eye elicited were another story entirely. It was these stares—from his customers at the bakery, players on the field, and in almost every other social interaction—that were agonizing for him. Once the life of the party, Mario retreated from all of the things he used to love.

Counselling at Arlington Free Clinic provided a safe space for Mario to talk about what had happened, but after several months he stopped coming in for appointments and every call we made went unanswered. But AFC volunteer and Lions Club member Lloyd Bell was determined to not give up on this young man—who he’d never even met—and he approached us with the idea of raising funds to get Mario an eye prosthesis. It took our medical assistant, Liz, months to track Mario down and convince him to give it a try.

After many more weeks of consultations, photographs, and molds with a local ocularist, Mario was fitted with something called a scleral shell that sits directly on top of his blemished eye, moves comfortably and naturally, and is a beautifully hand-painted match. The Arlington South Lions Chapter raised half of the cost of the scleral shell, and Lions International chipped in the rest.

These days, Mario is back to playing soccer, spending time with friends, and enjoying his time in his customer-facing role at the bakery—and he looks forward to volunteering with the Lions by selling Christmas trees this holiday season.

Read our complete 2017 Annual Report.