Dozens are seeing clearly for the first time in years thanks to the generosity of some eye surgeons from Manatee and Sarasota counties.

On Wednesday, Center For Sight, donated free cataracts and other vision-saving surgeries as part of their annual Mission Cataract program.

The annual event is held for people who do not have insurance or any other means to pay for surgery.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts are one of the most common causes of blindness for people over the age of 40. Nearly two of every ten people aged 40 and over suffer from this condition. Yet, vision loss from cataracts are easy to treat and curable.

“It’s a procedure, depending on severity of cataract, that can be 6-minutes to 12-minutes,” said William Soscia, M.D., an Eye Surgeon Ophthalmologist for Center For Sight in Manatee County.

Soscia, said using an operating microscope, surgeons are able to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one. However, it’s a successful cataract procedure that many cannot afford.

“They’d say get your cataracts fixed, and I’d say get me health insurance,” said Kat Kelly, who has cataracts in both of her eyes.

Kelly, 58, who lives in Bradenton, said ever since developing cataracts several years ago, she lost her sight, her job and overall quality of life. But now things are looking up for Kelly. She was one of 100-people who participated in the Mission Cataract program and got her sight restored for free.

Estimates show that nearly 90,000 adults live below the poverty line in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Organizers said the goal of Mission Cataract is to eradicate blindness due to cataracts or other surgically treatable eye conditions for indigent patients throughout the region.

How to qualify

Center For Sight is one of only a few eye centers in the United States to offer this service, which is now in its 18th consecutive year. To qualify, patients must be a United States citizen and have poor vision that is uncorrectable with glasses, no other means to pay for cataract surgery, and no Medicare, Medicaid, or third-party insurance coverage.

“These are the people of our society, our brothers and sisters, that are the absolute worst,” said Soscia.  “They can’t see anything.  Their lives have been ruined from it.  To be able to do a little bit to get them back on a normal track again is what’s it’s all about.”

Those who received the surgery, said it’s a life changing act of kindness they’ll never forget.

“I’m very grateful that I can finally be independent and self-sufficient,” said Kelly. “It will give me the opportunity to drive to find employment and work on the computer and not be dependent on everybody.”

Patients traveled from Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and even as far away as Alabama and Georgia, to participate in Mission Cataract.

Center For Sight’s ophthalmologic and optometric physicians, nurses, and other clinical professionals individually contribute their time and services for each Mission Cataract event.

This year, Center For Sight donated over $250,000 in care, which will put the total value of donated services to date at over $3 million. To ensure ongoing funding of its charitable efforts, Center For Sight formed the Center For Sight Foundation in 2012, a donor-advised fund of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

One hundred percent of every dollar donated to Center For Sight Foundation goes directly to purchasing  pre- and post-operative exams, medications, surgical supplies, protective post-operative glasses, and the artificial lenses that are implanted into patients’ damaged eyes at the time of surgery.

“We are proud to participate in Mission Cataract every year to provide the necessary care and treatment for those who would otherwise go through each day struggling to see,” said Dr. David Shoemaker, Founder, CEO and Director of Cataract and Lens Replacement Surgery at Center For Sight. “It is very gratifying to know how vision restoration becomes such a life-changing experience that can open new doors of opportunity for the people of our community.”