When Elenis and her husband, Jose, arrived in Salt Lake from Venezuela in 2020, the 64-year-old’s vision had deteriorated so much that she could do little on her own.
“I was losing hope of ever being able to see again,” Elenis recalls. “I couldn’t cross the street by myself or even take my blood pressure and write down the results.”
She was one of 23 patients who attended the John A. Moran Eye Center’s Hope in Sight Retina Clinic in January 2023, but it wasn’t her first visit.
For more than a year, Elenis has relied on Moran for regular injections to treat her diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that damages the blood vessels inside the retina and, if left untreated, can cause blindness.
Held at Moran’s Midvalley location, the monthly donor-funded clinic through Moran’s Global Outreach Division is entering its second year of serving uninsured and under-insured Utahns with diabetes and other sight-threatening retinal conditions.
Several months after arriving in Utah, Elenis received an appointment at the Maliheh Free Clinic, one of several community health clinics visited by Moran physicians regularly. The clinic connected her with Moran retinal specialist Akbar Shakoor, MD, one of the outreach volunteer physicians who helped create Moran’s free Hope in Sight Retina Clinic.
“When I started coming here, Dr. Shakoor promised me that I’d be able to get my life back. He was right. It’s been so much better. It’s almost like being born again,” Elenis says. “I can cook again.”
Her husband is equally appreciative.
“I’ve been with Elenis through this whole process, and it’s been kind of traumatic, watching her lose her vision and not be able to do things she could before,” says Jose. “It’s gone from being very bad to pretty good right now. All the people involved have been really wonderful. We appreciate them all.”
Before she lost her vision, Elenis loved working with her hands, sewing hats for babies. She hopes to do that again. For now, she says, “I can get through my life.”
Diabetes Care a Top Priority
While diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults, many patients skip screenings and timely treatment due to the cost of care.
“Once the damage has begun, our goal is to monitor it, stabilize vision, and slow the loss with injections or laser treatments,” says Shakoor. “The patients referred from our local outreach clinics have often missed exams and treatments, and their vision has suffered. In turn, they risk losing their independence, their jobs, and the ability to drive. These clinics make a real difference.”
Physicians who volunteered their time at January’s Hope in Sight Retina Clinic included Spencer Fuller, MD; James Kohler, MD; Katherine Hu, MD; and resident Anthony Mai, MD. They were assisted by several Moran employees who also donated their time.
Survey Results Confirmed Need
When a team of Moran Eye Center and University of Utah healthcare professionals surveyed Utah eye care providers and stakeholders in 2020 to identify where the state was falling short in providing eye care for the state’s most underserved groups, the answer was clear. The survey identified diabetes-related vision loss as the most urgent outreach care need in Utah.
Moran created the Hope in Sight Retina Clinic to help address this dire need for ongoing monitoring and care and is working with community partners to develop new diabetes eye health outreach programs.