In celebration of our 6th National Sight Week, the ASCRS Foundation interviewed three of our champion volunteers about their commitment to give back within their local communities. Our third and final of the series spotlights Operation Sight volunteer and ASCRS member, Andrew Kao, MD, at Advanced Center for Eyecare. Dr. Kao's impact in 2021 has been substantial! With almost 200 charitable cataract surgeries provided within the first half of 2021, Dr. Kao powers ahead to make cataract care accessible to patients in his local community of Bakersfield, CA. Dr. Kao is an extraordinary volunteer surgeon and we are inspired by his immeasurable impact on the lives of Operation Sight patients!
In 2021, you joined our Operation Sight volunteer network and you have already had such a substantial impact in your local community. What impact on the patients and their local communities do you witness when making this care accessible? How does it fuel your commitment to making care accessible?
Dr. Kao: Although I only joined the Operation Sight network this year, I have been volunteering at Advanced Center for Eyecare for the last five years. Making this care accessible to our patients is incredibly important because these are often the patients who are least visible in our community, due to language, financial struggles, and ability to navigate the healthcare system. When patients are able to access this care, it improves their ability to work, care for their families, and return to being productive members of our community. Seeing the impact our care makes on their lives and their families’ lives motivates me to continue providing this accessibility to them.
Were you always aware about the substantial need for cataract care accessibility in your local community?
Dr. Kao: I did not have an “awakening” moment, per se, but growing up in the Central Valley, I was always aware that there was an extremely underserved population from an early age. We have a large population of migrant and immigrant workers who are often uninsured or underinsured, and they often have trouble navigating the healthcare system due to various barriers. However, these are some of the most important members of our community, due to their hard work in our agricultural industry, providing produce for not only our local community, but the entire country. By making cataract care accessible to these patients, we can restore their functioning, improve their quality of life, and benefit our entire community.
Absolutely, when you change the life of an Operation Sight patient, you're also impacting their families and loved ones. How does volunteering with us make giving back locally easy to do?
Dr. Kao: Volunteering with Operation Sight and Advanced Center for Eyecare make a measurable impact on our local community by providing care directly where it is needed. We know that any charitable donations are going back into our community to make a positive difference. Because we have our own ambulatory surgery center, we are able to incorporate these patients into my regularly scheduled block time seamlessly.
You are inspirational! If you had to share one drive for your volunteerism, what would it be?
Dr. Kao: I volunteer with Operation Sight to make cataract care accessible because growing up in Bakersfield, I understood the need to provide quality healthcare to our community from an early age. Volunteering in the hospital and shadowing physicians in high school showed me that there was a sizeable portion of our population that lacked access to healthcare and suffered because of that. One Operation Sight patient that really demonstrates this need was a woman who is the primary caregiver for her family who became deaf and subsequently also developed dense cataracts resulting in hand motions vision. She no longer was able to provide for her family and became dependent on others for basic needs. Once we were able to provide her with cataract surgery with the help of Operation Sight, she was beyond thrilled that she could see her grandchildren for the first time and return to work and be able to support her family. Not only were we able to impact this patient’s life, but her whole family benefitted as well.
That is a phenomenal story, and it really speaks to the obstacles that patients face in addition to losing their sight. Operation Sight is fueled by our volunteers. We have a rapidly growing need and always need additional volunteers to get involved. Even one free cataract surgery a year makes a difference to our patients. What advice do you have for an ophthalmologist considering volunteering with Operation Sight?
Dr. Kao: My advice would be to just do it! This is something very routine for us as surgeons but makes a huge difference in patients’ lives. The sooner you get involved, the sooner patients most in need will benefit.
Operation Sight volunteers like Dr. Kao and fellow volunteers at Advanced Center for Eyecare are doing tremendous work to ensure that all members of their community can see clearly. We are so thankful for Dr. Kao's commitment to changing lives with Operation Sight patients!
For more information or to get involved in Operation Sight today, contact Jaya Minhas, Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.