Pine Belt patients benefit from free procedure


Angela Allen of Hattiesburg anticipates seeing life much clearer as of today, or at least after a few days.

Allen is one of 10 preselected patients, who will benefit from free cataract surgery during Southern Eye Center’s annual Gift of Sight program, which was held Wednesday. The annual event has been held at the Hattiesburg office of Southern Eye Center in the past, but moved north to showcase their new Laurel location.

Gift of Sight is a one-day philanthropy event dedicated to providing free cataract procedures  to patients who could not otherwise afford them. Dr. Lynn McMahan, founder of SEC, created the Gift of Sight program 23 years ago. Candidates are chosen from within the Pine Belt community and the number of patients treated varies annually.

Dr. Kiper Nelson, SEC ophthalmologist and cataract specialist, will perform this year’s procedures.

 While Allen has cataracts on both eyes, her left eye is much worse, so it’s the one getting the surgery this go-round.

Allen said having lived in Hattiesburg all her life she was aware of the program.

“I never could have had this done if not for this program,” Allen said of the approximate $5,000 procedure. “It was just too costly and I’m uninsured.”

The grandmother is very excited about the possibility of restoring clear vision to one of her eyes. “We take for granted things like this,” she said. “They say having this one eye done should improve my vision a great deal.”

Currently, her eyesight is a bit on the blurry side, which makes it difficult to drive at night. “The lights tend to all mingle together,” she said. “I have to be careful. I don’t drive places I’m not familiar with and I wouldn’t go anywhere I don’t know the roads.”

But it’s not being able to clearly see the faces of those she’s talking with that bothers her the most. “When speaking to someone and not able to see their face the way it should be seen gives me a disoriented feeling. It makes you feel off kilter.”

Her recovery should be fairly easy – wearing dark glasses for a week or so and when outside in the sun.

To prep for the procedure, Allen watched a video, which provided her with information about what the surgery and recovery entails. She also said Dr. Nelson and the staff have been very thorough explaining the procedure. “They make sure you understand what they are talking about,” Allen said.

Allen doesn’t currently wear glasses, but may need them at some point. “I use readers to help read fine print, menus and such,” she said.

“I’m very grateful for Southern Eye Center and this service they provide to the community. It’s giving back to the public which has chosen them as their doctors. It’s a valuable thing they are doing.”

Allen was very complimentary of the treatment she’s received at the eye center, saying that all the employees – from the people at the reception desk all the way back to the doctors – are warm and friendly. “You couldn’t ask for any better treatment.”

The cataract procedure only takes about five minutes, but even with that short amount of time, Allen said she completely trusts the skills of Nelson. “He’s done this thousands of times.”

Nelson is happy to have a part in such a worthwhile cause.

“During Gift of Sight, we treat patients with visual problems, typically advanced cataracts. We get to know patients whose vision impairment impacts every part of their life: their job, their home life, their hobbies. Then after surgery, we see all of that restored to them, and it’s a good feeling.”