Let there be sight! Panhandle Eye Group performs free surgeries


t's something most of us take for granted -- our vision. But those who don't have it, know how precious it really is.

That's why Panhandle Eye Group of Amarillo is participating for its tenth year in the annual Mission Cataract USA. The two day event on Friday and Saturday aims provide cataract surgery for people of all ages who have no means to pay. All doctors and volunteers for the event also worked free of charge -- without pay.

"We see how bad their cataracts are, how bad their vision is and we see what their financial need is," said Dr. Alan MacCarty, a surgeon for Panhandle Eye Group of Amarillo. "We take each patient and then we pick the worst of the worst of patients that we can help and we do as many as we can."

Over the course of the event, Panhandle Eye Group planned to perform 110 surgeries. That's the most they've ever performed for Mission Cataract USA.

Some patients come from all over a five state area just to be involved is Mission Cataract 2012. One patient from Denton, Texas, Benjamin Olawale, had been blinded by cataracts in both of his eyes since 2008.

"I can see only shadows," said Olawale. "I'm looking at you and I don't see your eyes, I don't see any features in you, I just see the silhouette," he told Pronews 7 reporter Emily Griffin. " It's difficult. You can't see to do just about anything, I bump into walls."

Olawale is like many of the other patients who, because of their limited vision, have been unable to work and have found themselves struggling.

"The difference that we make is more than just to the patient," said Dr. McCarty. "They can't function in society, they can't get a job very easily and they also have to have family members take care of them. If you can restore the vision at least in one eye, they're able to get a job, they're able to function well, they don't have to have their family take care of them so it really frees up more than just the patient, but also their family."

Olawale had been depending on his family for help through life. In fact, one of his sons flew across country just to help bring him to Amarillo for the procedure. It's his children, Olawale said, that he really can't wait to see.

"I'm overcome with emotion," Olawale said as he held back tears. "I'd like to see my children's faces. I see them all the time but I don't see their faces. I recognize their voices but I can't see them."

Each procedure lasts anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes and would normally cost a person several thousand dollars per eye. Dr. McCarty said even someone with severe cataracts like Olawale could have their vision restored through the surgery to almost 20/20 vision.

Pronews 7 met up with Olawale again after his short procedure to catch his reaction to seeing the world again for the first time in four years.

"I can see you," he said. "I didn't see you before, I couldn't see any features on you before but now I see you. I see everything."

A gift so precious, Olawale said he'll never be able to repay them. The gift of sight.

"There's no amount of money I can give them for what they've given me," said Olawale. "The only thing I have to give them is my prayers."