Operation gives sight to sore eyes

FRESNO -- Gloria Silva is an avid seamstress, but the cataract in her left eye had made it difficult for her to even thread a needle.

But the 62-year-old Biola resident should be back to sewing quilts for her 11 grandchildren in no time, thanks to a free cataract surgery she recently received from EYE-Q Vision Care.

"With the economy the way it was, I didn't have the money to buy glasses," Silva said as she lay in an operating bed. "I never thought it was going to be this bad that I was going to need surgery."

Silva was one of 12 low-income, uninsured patients who were selected to participate in EYE-Q Vision Care's second Cataract Day last Friday morning. Eighteen EYE-Q staff members donated their time to perform the surgeries, which are 10- to 15-minute procedures that typically cost between $2,500 and $3,000 per eye.

Omni Anesthesia Group, Alcon Surgical and Abbott Medical Optics also contributed to the event.

The operations should make it easier for patients to drive, work, and engage in their day-to-day activities, said corneal specialist Dr. Michael Walker.

"It is an effective procedure that is performed millions of times per year around the world and makes a really big difference in patients' lives," he said.

Surgery center manager Matthew Dawson agreed.

"It might only be a 15-minute surgery, but the dividends it pays are immeasurable," he said.

Cataracts -- a clouding of the lens in the eye that impacts vision -- are very common in older people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, excessive amounts of alcohol, and prolonged exposure to sunlight also increase the risk of cataracts.

For the surgery, the lens of the eye is removed, and replaced with an artificial lens. Patients' vision is expected to begin improving the day after the surgery, and their eyes typically heal completely within a month.

Lupe Martínez, 59, of Woodlake, was thrilled to be having the cataract in her right eye removed. Her cataract prevented her from driving at night, reading signs, or watching her grandchildren play sports, she said.

"My grandkids play ball, and I can go sit there and watch them play, but I can't see who is hitting the ball," Martínez said. "I'm happy I will be able to do a lot of things I can't do now."

When asked what she would do the day after her surgery when her vision was beginning to improve , Martínez was overwhelmed by the possibilities.

"Maybe I will go out for a drive -- I don't know!" she said as she laughed. Martínez added that one of her eight grandkids has a soccer game in the afternoon -- and for the first time in a while, she could finally watch the game clearly.

That almost-immediate improvement in life quality underscores the necessity of cataract surgery, said Karen Wolaridge, a nurse anesthetist with Omni Anesthesia Group.

"This is an amazing surgery," she said. "People come in here that really can't see -- everything is fuzzy, everything is cloudy -- and by tomorrow morning, they can see. It's just such a gift to give somebody."

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