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Doctors Donate Skills to Restore Sight to Area Residents in Need

Patients in recovery at the Gift of Sight clinic.

by Bruce Bryan

“The need is so great,” observed Dr. John Wood.

On a Friday in mid-December, a team of physicians, medical staff and support personnel performed nineteen donated procedures to help those suffering with cataracts.

“We could line up every ophthalmologist in the area and have days like this,” Dr. Wood said.  “And we still wouldn’t make a dent in the need for these types of procedures.”

During the 3rd Annual Gift of Sight Free Cataract Care Clinic, Vistar ophthalmologists Dr. Chad Albright, Dr. John R. Wood, and Dr. Mark Robinson teamed with Eye Care & Surgery’s Dr. William Thompson and other area eye care professionals to offer free cataract surgery to individuals from throughout SW Virginia who have a significant need and do not have medical insurance.

“It was a huge success,” said Beth Kolnok, Director of Marketing for Vistar Eye Center.  “Alcon donated the supplies.  The Roanoke Valley Center for Sight donated the facility and all the medical staff was good enough to donate their time too.”

“Everyone chipped in and at the end of the day we had helped almost 20 people see like they hadn’t seen in years.  The thing that makes this event so great is the quick improvement.  The patients come out of the surgery and they can see immediately.”

Those who qualified came from all over the region, including Martinsville, Salem, Fincastle, Radford and Roanoke.  Screenings for qualified patients occurred during the month of November and the surgeries were scheduled for this special life-changing day.

“We do these types of pro bono surgeries throughout the year,” Dr. Wood said.  “This event is extra special because we devote the entire day to these procedures.  The staff would not have normally been working on this day and they all came in and made the effort to help all these families.  It’s a great day and a fun thing to be able to do during the holidays.”

There was a wide range of patients going through the cataract surgery.  Most suffer from the long term, debilitating effects of cataracts.   One patient, Jeremy Clark, is in his mid 20’s and has seen his vision deteriorate over the past decade beginning with an accident that happened while he was playing outside with friends.

“A branch broke and poked me in the eye,” explained Clark before the procedure.  “Now I can’t see out of that eye really – it’s foggy and cloudy and I’d love to be able to see.” Clark works as a substitute teacher and high school coach.

“It’s hard to coach wrestling when you can only see with one eye – that’s for sure,” said Clark.  “I am really looking forward to the end of this procedure.”

When Dr. Wood wrapped up the surgery, Clark was wheeled into the recovery area, where he found he could see clearly immediately. “I can see perfectly now,” said Clark.  “It’s a big difference – man it’s awesome.”

Like the other 18 patients, he was back to see Dr. Robinson for some post operative care at Vistar’s Salem office later Friday afternoon.

Patients typically have no further complications and can look forward to life with clear vision and a long-term change.  Besides coaching, many patients said they were looking forward to all sorts of things. “I can’t wait to cook for myself,” said Bobby Joe Fields.  “I like the way things taste when I cook it the way I like and it will be great to be able to do that for myself.  I also can’t wait to fish and hunt – it’s going to be great.”

Others said they wanted to read their own mail, drive, shop, and all kinds of other daily activities most people normally take for granted.  It was an immediate and impressive change for all 19 recipients of the program.

“I had the afternoon off,” said Dr. Wood.  “What else was I going to do?  It’s great to be able to help people and I am glad we do this each year.”

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