"You gave me my life back."
That’s how Becky Moss began a thank-you note for the cataract surgery she received at no cost from the John A. Moran Eye Center that restored her vision—and her will to live.
She was one of 17 Utahns in need who received free cataract surgery on Saturday, January 12, as part of Moran Eye Center’s twice-yearly Operation Sight Day.
Doctors identify patients for the events through charitable health clinics including the Fourth Street Clinic, Moran’s Hope in Sight Refugee Eye Care Clinic, and Salt Lake City’s Project Homeless Connect.
A cataract, a clouding of the naturally transparent lens of the eye, blurs and dulls vision and can eventually lead to blindness. In surgery, a doctor removes the clouded lens and inserts a clear artificial one, known as an IOL, in its place.
Restoring sight, restoring hope
"This is such an amazing thing they do," said Moss. "There was no way I could afford this."
Moss described herself as "completely blind" and facing homelessness—a prospect that left her suicidal—before cataract surgery in her right eye at Operation Sight Day in June. That first surgery restored her hope in life, she wrote in her poignant thank-you note.
Now after cataract surgery for her left eye, Moss talked about putting "this amazing gift" to great use.
"I see a coffeemaker; I see people’s faces; I see detail," she said excitedly from her bed in the recovery room. "I can now get a job. I can drive safely. It is just stunning."
Helping Utahns in need
Richard Schoenfeld, another Operation Sight Day patient, called his restored vision "miraculous" after cataract surgery in his right eye.
He said he’d been struggling in a "fog" the last nine and a half months. "Sometimes, when it’s blurry and foggy, you don’t want to look at the world anymore," he said.
Abel Gavilan, a 75-year-old homeless man receiving services at the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City, was looking forward to being able to see animals again and to read his Bible.
Gavilan, who worked with and cared for horses most of his life, lost sight in one eye when a horse kicked him. Cataracts stole vision in his other eye.
A community effort
University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins joined Moran CEO Randall J Olson to meet with patients and observe surgery at Operation Sight Day, one of several local outreach efforts by Moran’s Global Outreach Division.
"It’s important that we, as a community working together, step up to fill access gaps in our health care system," said Jeff Pettey, MD, outreach division co-medical director. "When we assist people who are chronically underserved, we’re transforming families and supporting our state economy by getting people back to work and school."
A 2013 report by Prevent Blindness America placed the total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the United States at $139 billion. In Utah, that translates into $1 to $2 billion annually.
Operation Sight Day was only possible thanks to generous donors, including presenting sponsor Grandeur Peak Global Advisors of Salt Lake City.
The Eye Institute of Utah in Salt Lake City, the St. George Eye Center, and Trent Richards, MD, of the Tanner Clinic in Davis County are also restoring vision to additional patients in partnership with Moran. The Moran Eye Center alone has restored sight to nearly 200 Utahns through Operation Sight.
Moran surgeons donating their skills were Alan S. Crandall, MD; Amy Lin, MD; Rachel G. Simpson, MD; and Pettey. More than 40 additional Moran medical personnel and staff volunteered their time for Operation Sight Day.
Moran residents and University of Utah medical students created a charity surgery day with volunteer physicians, staff, nurses, and technicians in 2012. The event was adopted as a national model by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Foundation’s Operation Sight network.