Friday, April 20 , 2018, 12:10 pm | Fair 62º


Thanks to Free Surgeries, Future in Sight for 9 Patients

See International operations bring doctors, staff together to improve vision locally, too

Nine people who desperately needed eye operations but couldn’t afford it received the gift of a free surgery Saturday as a group of doctors and organizations donated their time to improve their sight.

Eight people were able to benefit from cataract surgeries and one patient had an eye condition called strabismus corrected, all free of charge.

Six doctors and an entire team of surgical staff agreed to donate their time for Saturday’s operations. Also donated was the clinic space at the Stuart and Louisa MacDougall Eye Center at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, while Alcon, AMO and Cardinal Health contributed the medical supplies used. The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics also provided the required medical exams and paperwork for the patients.

“It’s a huge collaboration of medical professionals that come together to make this happen,” said Kim Welton, general manager of Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International, which coordinated Saturday’s free surgeries. Headquartered at 7200 Hollister Ave., the nonprofit group’s mission is to improve the sight of those around the world, and SEE Expeditions take place worldwide.

Because nearly 90 percent of the world’s blindness occurs in developing countries, Welton said SEE International works with more than 600 volunteers all across the world to help improve sight.

Spearheaded in the early 1980s by Dr. George B. Primbs, a SEE International founding member, the Santa Barbara Vision Care Program was borne out of the need for eye care locally.

Nurse Elizabeth Link, clinical manager of the MacDougall Eye Center, and Dr. Michael Paveloff, a local opthamologist, were instrumental in coordinating and recruiting the team needed to conduct Saturday’s surgeries.

Ordinarily, cataract surgeries can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 per eye, and corrections for strabismus start at around $1,800.

A 57-year-old man who was one of those who received cataract surgery had lost his job because his vision had prevented him from renewing his driver’s license. Another woman who received strabismus surgery works as a housekeeper and has dealt with her eye condition since childhood. She lives in a shelter and has no health insurance, but was able to benefit from the free operation.

Patients with cataracts also had their vision corrected if they had been forced to wear corrective lenses, Welton said.

In under an hour, the cataract surgery can correct years of visual impairment.

“What always hits home to me is that you don’t just help return their sight, but their lives are completely transformed,” Welton said, adding that restored vision gives patients a chance to live a full and productive life.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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