Operation Sight offers free eye surgery to those in need

ST. GEORGE – Free eye surgery is now available for some patients  in Southern Utah. Operation Sight is a new program designed to help uninsured and underinsured patients receive needed cataract surgery at no charge.

The St. George Eye Center was chosen by the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center to lead the effort in Southern Utah.

Drs. Snow Slade and Jason Hendrix held the first of what will be a semiannual charity eye surgery day last month. The event was sponsored by Abbott Medical Optics and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. Two patients were treated during the inaugural event. Slade said the program will attempt to serve as many patients as possible in the future.

“There’s still a lot of patients who don’t qualify for health care for all sorts of reasons. Either they qualify but it’s just completely unaffordable or they still just don’t meet criteria,” Slade said. “They can’t get state funding, they can’t get federal funding; those people are the ones that will benefit from this.”

St. George resident Janet Roberts was one of the patients treated last month. Roberts said she is not eligible for Medicare and learned the surgery would cost about $8,000. She found out about Operation Sight after making a call to the St. George Lions Club. A couple of referrals later and she was selected for the surgery program.

“It’s amazing,” Roberts said. “There was no way I could have afforded it.”

Roberts was legally blind by the time she went into surgery, she said. For more than a year she saw the world through a muddy-brown haze.

“It’s given me my life back because I have two little grandsons that I now can take to places like the pumpkin patch,” she said. “I’m still blown away every morning that I can see so clearly.”

Cataract surgery is a relatively simple, routine procedure that takes about 20 minutes, Slade said.

“It’s a relatively quick surgery and the effect can be pretty gratifying, pretty significant.”

The next charity eye surgery day is set for spring 2016. Operation Sight is now accepting applications from patients in need of the procedure.

“We have the means and we have willing hands and, to be honest, I wish we’d had more the first go-round,” Slade said. “We actually had a hard time finding people.”

He’s hoping a lack of patients won’t be a problem for the next event once the community is aware of the program.

“We hope to be able to help as many as we need,” Slade said. “If there’s bunches and bunches, we’ll figure out how to take care of them.”

Patients eligible for the service must meet certain criteria.  The patient must be verified as uninsured and not eligible for care through other state or county programs. The patient must be determined to be a candidate for cataract surgery. The staff of the St. George Eye Center will assist candidates in the application process. Anyone who may need these services and feels they meet these criteria, should email Jen Moss (jmoss@stgec.com) at the St. George Eye Center for an application.

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