Mar 26, 2014 2:30 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


Maria Rodriguez was driving home from work one day when her vision faded to black.

The 44-year-old food service worker from Salt Lake City pulled to the side of the road, luckily avoiding an accident while also coming to the devastating realization that her failing eyesight had left her completely in the dark. Rodriguez had always struggled to see while growing up in Mexico, but never realized how severely limited her eyesight was until arriving in the U.S. years later.

“Medical care in Mexico was only available when necessary: If you got a bad cut or needed stitches. A cold, an ear ache, a toothache —we just had to live with it,” Maria said through a translator. 

The frightening moment on the road was a turning point for Maria and her family. For years, she had come home from work with injuries, usually burns from not being able to see properly while cooking.  She knew her blurred vision put her at risk, but she didn’t have other options: She couldn’t afford insurance on her own and didn’t earn enough to pay for surgery out-of-pocket.
 
As she wondered how she’d cope with her lost vision earlier this year, an unexpected benefactor stepped forward to help. The University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center selected Maria as one of 17 Utahns to participate in its spring Charitable Surgery Day on March 22.
 
As one of the patients at Charitable Surgery Day, Maria underwent a cornea transplant, which has resulted in better vision and an ability to function more productively every day in the workforce and at home.
 
Stories like Maria’s are a hallmark of Charitable Surgery Day. The event started as the brainchild of medical students and has since transformed into a semi-annual event where doctors, nurses and other medical personnel volunteer their time to help those in need.
 
At the March 22 event, 17 surgeries were performed. In addition to Maria’s cornea transplant, physicians performed seven white cataract surgeries and nine cataract surgeries.
 
Mark Mifflin, MD, and Geoff Tabin, MD—two Moran doctors who volunteered their time at Moran’s Charitable Surgery Day—said the outreach program offers a helping hand to patients who are in situations like Maria.
 
Jeff Pettey, MD, one of the founders of the event, also sees Charitable Surgery Day as a chance to give back to the community.
 
“I believe that no one with preventable vision loss or blindness should remain in darkness. We have the collective will and ability to provide state of the art care to the individuals in our community who cannot afford or do not have access to healthcare. No one in our community should be living with curable vision loss,” said Pettey.
 
Candidates for Charitable Surgery Day are selected through a careful process which in most cases starts with identifying patients in need through Moran Eye Center’s other outreach programs in the community. The center works at satellite locations in Utah, including the Homeless Health Fourth Street Clinic in downtown Salt Lake City, the Maliheh Free Clinic in Millcreek, the Salt Lake County Youth Detention Center in West Valley City, and the Glendale Community Center on Salt Lake City’s west side.  Ophthalmologists volunteer their time at the community facilities to provide preventative care and basic screenings for patients, while also screening for more severe disease or eye damage.  When they come across a patient who requires more extensive care or surgery, a uniquely comprehensive patient advocacy process begins and patients are sometimes steered into the Charitable Surgery Day program to receive care. Costs for the program are funded by the Moran Eye Center.
 
For patients like Maria, help from the Moran Eye Center has given her back aspects of life taken away by poor vision. Following her procedure, her face lit up when bandages were removed and she realized she could finally see.
 
“I don’t know if you can imagine how this makes me feel—how happy I feel—I have a new life!” she said, elated. “A few days ago, I couldn’t see you—now, I see you! I can truly say “I’m happy to meet you!” I would like to tell the world that I am very thankful for everyone at Moran.”

Fast Facts: Moran Charitable Surgery Day

Charitable Surgery Day at the Moran Eye Center on March 22 was underwritten by the Herbert I. and Elsa B. Michael Foundation; supported by more than 40 Moran Eye Center volunteers; and supported by donors to the Moran Eye Center and Night for Sight volunteers and participants. Several other organizations donated supplies medication, equipment, cataract lenses, and tissue including: 

  • Abbott Medical Optics: intraocular lenses; sterile supplies; durable medical equipment
  • ALCON: Sterile supplies; post-op medications
  • Allergan: Post-op medications
  • Synergy: Drapes and supplies
  • Utah Lions Eye Bank: Eye tissue

About the Procedures

  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye—an area that is normally transparent. The clouding prevents light rays from passing through the lens and focusing on the retina. Over time, the cataract may grow larger, making it difficult to see.
  • Cataract Surgery:  The cloudy lens is removed and replaced. It is one of the safest and most commonly performed operations around the world.
  • White Cataracts: White cataracts are generally more mature, denser or harder, and may have been caused by trauma to the eye. While not the norm in the United States, absolute cataracts—white cataracts—require that physicians consider different factors and use advanced, complex techniques than they would for routine cataract surgery.
  • Cornea Surgery: The normally clear cornea is cloudy and is replaced with a clear cornea, usually donated through an eye bank. Corneal transplantation has restored sight to thousands, who otherwise would be blind due to corneal injury, infection, or inherited corneal disease or degeneration. 

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