12 patients get cataract surgery as part of free clinic

12 patients get cataract surgery as part of free clinic

WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst, "Cookie" Jenkins says her vision was a nine.

Crippled by cataracts, her poor eyesight was partially to blame for her inability to hold down a decent-paying job.

"I can't read a newspaper. I can't read a book. I can barely read my phone," she said.

Jenkins, along with eleven others suffering from blurred vision because of cataracts, was selected for free cataract surgery on Monday at the Hawaiian Eye Center. They qualified because they are homeless, poor, uninsured or under-insured.

"I have Medicare Plan A, and no, it does not cover vision," John Nagoski said.

"I checked for Medicaid, Social Security. I didn't qualify. It's unbelievable," added Ao Rodenhurst.

Cataract surgery can cost up to $6,000 per eye in a private surgery center, and up to $10,000 per eye in a hospital.

"There are people who may have insurance, but their co-payments for procedures like this are prohibitively high for their income," said Dr. Christopher Tortora, who performed the surgeries.

A generous grant from the Atherton Family Foundation defrayed some of the cost.  Tortora, an anesthesiologist, surgical assistants and clinical staff volunteered their time and skill. Pharmaceutical companies donated equipment and supplies. The 12 lucky patients were selected from a much longer list of potential qualifiers.

"The vetting process is a matter of going through patient by patient, having conversations about income and tax levels," said Annie Valentin, of Project Vision Hawaii.

Valentin and Dr. John Corboy's Hawaiian Eye Foundation selected the fortunate patients.

"Many of these people have never seen their grandchildren. They can't see the food on their plate," Corboy said. "We can perform this miracle for them, and in this case at no cost."

The surgery involves inserting an artificial lens into an eye damaged by a cataract.

"It's a fairly short procedure, but complex technologically," Tortora said.

For the patients, the surgery was eye opening. It cleared up their cloudy vision.

"It's given me a new life," Jenkins said.

This is the first time the Hawaiian Eye Foundation conducted a free cataract clinic on Oahu. It regularly holds overseas cataract surgery outreaches in impoverished countries.

The non-profit hopes to secure more funding so it can conduct free cataract days on a regular basis statewide.

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