ASCRS member and ASCRS Foundation Operation Sight Volunteer of the Year, Michael Graham, MD, found his path to ophthalmology through his genuine love of people, scientific inclinations, and a natural knack for “fixing things.” Combining his passion for the field and his passion to help others, Dr. Graham began making a difference through international mission work. However, he soon discovered the growing need for accessible care in his home state of Florida through Operation Sight. Passionate about sharing his tremendous skills of performing cataract surgery on those who would otherwise go without treatment, Dr. Graham remains one of Operation Sight’s strongest advocates and continues to utilize his talent to give sight to his community. Dr. Graham recently discussed his experience as an Operation Sight volunteer and his advice for other surgeons interested in local charitable care. Read the full interview below.
ASCRS Foundation: You are part of the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight volunteer network of 740 volunteers and charitable organizations. What inspired you to first get involved with Operation Sight as a volunteer surgeon?
Dr. Graham: I had been doing some international volunteer work and through that I learned that the ASCRS Foundation had a national program treating the same in-need populations. I thought it would be great to help people at home, so I signed up!
ASCRS Foundation: Can you share about the pressing need you witnessed for patients in financial need in your community and how Operation Sight has supported your passion to make care accessible?
Dr. Graham: Sometimes you come across patients who do not have insurance and they are stuck in the middle; they don’t qualify for Medicare, but they also don’t have enough money to pay for insurance to receive treatment. In this country, those people can get lost in the system and never receive care. Operation Sight has an entire system to screen patients and handles all of the patient coordination. This gives me a way to help those who truly need it, and I can refer patients from my office knowing they have another avenue for treatment.
ASCRS Foundation: What was your first experience accepting and providing charitable cataract surgery to an Operation Sight patient?
Dr. Graham: The patient had traveled from quite a distance because I was the nearest volunteer. He was extremely appreciative, happy, and told us several times he never would have been able to get this treatment done any other way. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to help people who need the help. With cataracts, their lives are instantly better after the cataract surgery.
ASCRS Foundation: Why have you chosen to continue to volunteer with Operation Sight? How does Operation Sight support your passion for charitable care?
Dr. Graham: Everybody needs to help everybody out in the world. People are lucky; I got dealt a good hand of cards. I played them well, and I am doing OK. However, some people do not get dealt a good hand from the beginning. I believe that everyone has a responsibility to help anybody out who they can.
ASCRS Foundation: How does volunteering with Operation Sight make giving back locally easy to do?
Dr. Graham: I would feel terrible if someone didn’t have access to the surgery and the quality of life they need because of their insurance. This is a very needed program, and it’s an easy experience to work with Operation Sight. The ASCRS Foundation has an entire system to vet the patient and make sure it is someone truly in need. They are very helpful in handling much of the patient communication and logistics in getting the patient through the doors.
ASCRS Foundation: What impact have you witnessed when making this care accessible?
Dr. Graham: When you can’t see, it is usually part of the reason you fall into a gap. If you can’t see well, you aren’t capable of accomplishing tasks people would pay you to do. Perhaps even if you could, you might not see well enough to be able to drive yourself there. Helping people see better gives them a chance to help themselves.
ASCRS Foundation: What advice do you have for an ophthalmologist considering volunteering with Operation Sight?
Dr. Graham: If you feel like you’ve been blessed and want to give back to your community, this is the perfect way. You have unique skills. Many more people have the ability to volunteer at the soup kitchen than those who can volunteer to perform cataract surgery. You have a unique set of skills and Operation Sight makes it easy to help people.
Join Dr. Graham and give the gift of sight in your community! Contact Program Manager Rachel Goode at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about volunteering with the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight program.