Carol Kelly has a simple wish: To wake up today and see the leaves on the trees in all their colorful glory.
That wasn’t possible up to now.
Kelly, 60, of Hamburg, suffers from cataracts, a clouding of the clear lens of the eye that impairs vision so that sight is like looking through a frosted window. At night, glare and halos around lights can make it impossible to drive.
She has endured for a few years because she lacked health insurance to obtain treatment.
On Saturday, however, Kelly underwent her second cataract surgery procedure, donated by Dr. Kenneth Anthone and his staff at the Anthone Eye Center in Amherst. Fourteen other uninsured patients also received surgery as part of an initiative Anthone began five years ago.
“It’s an amazing thing to have your vision back. It makes you want to give back, to pay it forward,” she said.
Kelly was laid off in 2010 as a diet technician at Mercy Hospital, where she worked for 20 years, and lost her health insurance coverage as a result. Her vision was starting to fail at the time and put her in a tough situation.
“I couldn’t get another job because I couldn’t see,” she said.
Anthone operated on her left eye last year and did the right eye Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to seeing every single leaf on the trees in three dimensions,” she said. “And now I can get a job and make a contribution.”
Anthone in the 1990s began offering a handful of free surgeries each year as part of Mission Cataract, a national program.
In 2009, he created the Eyes on America Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsored its own “Mission Cataract Day.”
He has been donating 25 surgeries a year until this year, when he did 15.
“It’s a nice feeling. We see all sorts of people from all walks of life,” Anthone said.
Today, the patients will return to his office for a post-operative checkup, and he said the moment when protective eye pieces come off and patients see clearly is a very satisfying one for him and his staff.
“It’s extremely emotional for people. You hear cries of joy,” he said.
Anthone this year reduced the number of cases, most of which come from referrals from optometrists and primary care physicians, because of the cost of financing the free care and the workload on his staff.
Will the Affordable Care Act make donated care by doctors a thing of the past?
Anthone doesn’t think so.
More patients will obtain insurance coverage under health reform. But there will be a population of people whose coverage will remain inadequate or who choose to pay a penalty instead of getting insured, he said.
“Right now, it’s a paradoxical situation,” Anthone said. “We see people who lost their insurance and can’t see, but can’t get a job until they get their sight back.”
Beverly Staub knows the feeling.
Anthone operated on her right eye, having done the left one last year.
She lost her job at a spa in 2011 as an electrologist, a person trained in permanent hair removal, after her vision began to deteriorate from cataracts and she couldn’t see the hairs. The Rochester resident didn’t have health insurance but found out about Anthone’s program.
“My vision got so bad that I can’t drive at night anymore. This time of year, when it starts getting dark at 4:30, it’s like curfew for me,” she said. “I’m looking forward to no more curfew.”