Operation Sight: Restoring Vision, Changing Lives

At Dr. Kerry Solomon’s practice, we consider ourselves fortunate to spend every day helping patients live fuller lives by improving their vision. However, the reality is that many people in our community continue to be limited by poor vision because they cannot afford the medical care they need.

Mrs. Cindi Solomon, along with Drs. Kerry Solomon, John Boatwright, and Paul Herring, recognized this need in our community. And in September of 2011, they found a way to address it. Together, they founded Operation Sight, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to restoring vision and improving lives by providing free surgical care to uninsured South Carolinians suffering from cataracts or sight-threatening retinal disorders.

Here’s what Executive Director Cindi Solomon had to say about Operation Sight, from its founding to today:

Q:  What was the impetus for you, Dr. Solomon, Dr. Herring, and Dr. Boatwright to create Operation Sight?

A: The founding physicians are great surgeons, great friends, and great people, who recognized there were SC residents who were uninsured and who could not afford cataract surgery.   Many of these individuals were at risk of losing their jobs or had already lost their jobs because of the vision problems caused by untreated cataracts.   The goal of these physicians was to keep these individuals self-sufficient and in the workforce by forming a not-for-profit that could match these individuals with volunteer physicians, including themselves, seek out donations from medical companies of lenses and drops, and pay the hard costs of surgery (thanks to generous donations and grants).

Q: One of the unique things about Operation Sight is the inclusion of local artists through the Vision is Art program, in which local artists display their work for sale and commit to donating a percentage of the proceeds. How did art become such a central part of your mission and your fundraising efforts?

A: In 2011, a local artist, Alex Radin, and his wife Sara helped work with Operation Sight to develop a fundraising model that promoted local artists and Operation Sight.  The concept was that there is no better way to emphasize the importance of good vision than by focusing on the beauty of the visual arts.   One of the artists who participated in our program in its early stages, Amelia Whaley, stated it best:

“I believe all art to be an ‘invitation’. Visual art, in particular, is an invitation to the viewer and requires the gift of sight. Without sight, the invitation lies unopened, and the promise of any interaction with the artwork is impossible.  As a visual artist, my hope is always that the viewer and the artwork engage, with the artwork evoking not just an emotional response, but also a physical response where the eyes journey through color, line, shape and texture – a sort of visual dance with the eyes.  ‘Operation Sight’ works to open the invitation of visual art for people and make the dance a reality. It is my privilege to support and partner with this organization that is dedicated to restoring the gift of sight to those in need.”

Q: How has Operation Sight grown since its founding in 2011?

In 2011, the home base for Operation Sight was a guest room in my home.   This worked fine until my in-laws asked to visit and I told my husband there was no room left in the house for his parents to stay.   He helped me find some office space the next day!

Operation Sight provided 27 surgeries that year. In the beginning, I had a wonderful volunteer, Keri Bogan, who helped with patient navigation and who had the foresight to initiate Vision is Art.   Blackbaud adopted us that year to help us develop our strategic vision.

This year, Operation Sight is predicted to provide 70 surgeries.  It has two employees, and the three of us have outgrown our office space.   Since 2011, Operation Sight has expanded its services from cataract surgery to acute retina surgery.  It is currently exploring providing assistance with glaucoma and corneal transplants.

Q: In nearly six years of working with Operation Sight, are there any stories that really stand out in your memory?

They all do.  For example, here is a recent testimonial we received:

“I can’t tell you how HAPPY Armando and his family have been to receive this surgery. He is like somebody who won the lottery.  He has told me at least 10 times that he is giving thanks to God for the wonderful gift. I hope that you and your husband and all the other folks at Operation Sight know what a beautiful thing you are doing in the lives of people who have so little.”

Q: What do you hope the future holds for Operation Sight?

My hope is that Operation Sight will continue to increase the scope of its services so that all SC residents can receive the eye care they need to continue to have the best vision possible to be self-sufficient and remain in the work force.

Learn more about Operation Sight—including information about patient eligibility and ways to donate—at operationsight.org.

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