Lions Clubs help local man

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Tobby Harmsworth, of northeast Barry County, and Dustin Skaggs detail a 2008 Chevy Tahoe at their residence. Harmsworth, who is legally blind, and Skaggs have started a detailing business. Jason Johnston/

Barry Countian's prosthetic iris procedures still in FDA trial phase

A Barry County man, who has been legally blind since childbirth, is seeking assistance to improve his vision with prosthetic iris procedures, which is still in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trial phase.

"I don't know if [Price Vision Group in Indianapolis] is going to work miracles, but when you are in a position that I'm in, any help is better than none," said Tobby Harmsworth, 37, who lives between Jenkins and McDowell. "The vision has deteriorated in the last seven or eight years. I'm not on the eye chart, and the eye chart is the general way of testing somebody."

The operations to put an iris in each eye may allow him to see at least the top letter on the eye chart, Harmsworth said. Smaller objects are harder for me to see than bigger objects.

"Basically, what I see at 5 feet, you probably see at 150--200 feet," he said. "I do a lot of stuff by sense. I can sit in my front room and be watching TV and not even have to turn around to see who drives by because I know the sound of the vehicles. I know that's our red truck, and if I seen it on the road, I would know that was my truck. But, I couldn't tell you who was driving it."

Harmsworth has congenital aniridia (no iris) and nystagmus (excessive eye movement), said Dawna Skaggs, who helps Harmsworth. He is an eligible candidate for FDA trials at the hospital.

"There is no code to bill insurance to, so insurance won't pay for it," Skaggs said.

"Tobby and I are not husband and wife," Skaggs said. "He's visually impaired and I drive. I'm going to say he's my best friend. He needs help, and I need help. I wouldn't have asked for any help from the Aurora Lions Club, but I broke my foot in July. And, I didn't know if I could even get him there. I didn't know if I could drive him.

"I sent one email to the Lions Club, and I got Charles Carey, and he's done wonders."

Area Lions Clubs have responded to Tobby's operations, said Carey, member of the Aurora Lions Club. The Aurora club sent $6,000 to the Indianapolis clinic to cover the cost of the initial operation.

"We hope to soon collect another $6,000 to $8,000 to schedule the second operation," he said.

Almost $10,000 has been raised, Skaggs said. On Feb. 26, Price Vision Group attached a new iris to Harmsworth's left eye, while also removing a cataract. The insurance company covered parts of the cataract surgery. It paid for basic things like the surgery suite, the anesthesiologist. The next operation is going to cost more since he's already had a cataract removed from his right eye several years ago. The down payment for the operations are $5,000 each, and each surgery costs $6,000.

"He probably won't have full vision in it for up to about a month," Skaggs said. "He could only see how many fingers you were holding up at 3-4 feet. He now can see the top letter of the eye chart."

Harmsworth will have nine to 15 followups since its an FDA trial, she said.

"He'll go back some time in April," Skaggs said. "We haven't made the date yet. He will go back in July or August to get the other eye done."

The fundraiser will help pay for gas on the 1,200-mile roundtrip journey for each surgery and checkup, motel stay and food expenses, Harmsworth said.

"We will do the best that we can to pay for what we can pay for," he said. "We don't expect everybody to do it for us. That's not our intention."

Right now, he cannot drive, Skaggs said. He lost his license about eight years ago. It was always a 45 mph daylight only license, but that would get him to work.

"But, hopefully he's going to be able to see the moon and the stars and people driving by and being able to have a license so that he can work," she said. "He started cutting firewood at 15 with FFA, and he is still doing it. So, out in the woods, can you imagine the brush at your feet out in the woods to make money?"

Last year, Burke Timber in Marionville laid off Harmsworth because of the extreme danger of working around logs, saws and moving equipment.

Harmsworth and Skaggs' son, Dustin Skaggs, have recently partnered together in a car detailing business at their residence, located at 5810 State Highway WW in Verona. They both have had experience detailing vehicles.

"We're a good team," Harmsworth said. "We work together, of course. I raised [Dustin]. I've been around him for 11 years now. He basically knows what I need."

Harmsworth cannot work at Mayse Automotive or Jimmy Michel Motors in Aurora because he does not have a driver's license, which is required to move the vehicles around the parking lot.

Skaggs said she finds the whole situation crazy since he can detail vehicles at home, and she hopes the detailing business picks up. Otherwise, Harmsworth may have to get a job through the Rehabilitation Services For The Blind in Springfield.

To demonstrate their abilities, Harmsworth and Dustin Skaggs cleaned out a 2008 Chevy Tahoe, which Jimmy Michel dropped off for them.

"We do it in steps," Harmsworth said. "We vacuumed it out, got it ready to wash. We washed it, and then we waxed and then we wiped down all of the interior, all the plastics and the seats. We cleaned out all of the cracks on it. Then, we cleaned the windows, and we cleaned the carpets. We also do the engine compartment.

"Basically, my process is I do a lot of it by feel. On the door panels and stuff like that, I can't see little bitty specs, but I can spray that down with the chemicals that we've got. I can cover the whole panel with the scrub brush and the cleaner and wipe it off. [Dustin] knows when he gets a minute or if he catches up to me, he knows to go behind me and take a peek at it to see what it looks like."

Harmsworth said he is to the point where people really do not want to let him work for them because of the vision problem.

"I would like for people to know that if there is anything that they would think I would be able to do, I would appreciate having the chance to do it," Harmsworth said. "I still have a house payment like everybody else does. I'd also like people to know that [the detailing business] is a good deal if I can do this at home. If they need a car cleaned, I would do it."

If people would like to make a donation for Harmsworth, they may contact Carey at or 417-678-2666 or contact area Lions Clubs. Skaggs has also set up accounts under her name to handle donations for Harmsworth at the Community National Bank, located at 444 S. Rinker Ave. in Aurora, and the Community National Bank, located at 901 E. U.S. Highway 60 in Monett.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: