In honor of our 25th Anniversary
Mission Cataract USA doctors give the Gift of Sight for Christmas
Twenty five years ago, Dr. Frederick A. Richburg, an ophthalmologist and founder of the Valley Eye Institute in Fresno, California launched a mission to give the gift of sight free of charge to impoverished, visually impaired individuals in his own community. He called it Mission Cataract USA.
Today Mission Cataract USA is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that networks with ophthalmologists nationwide to offer free cataract surgery to individuals of all ages in the USA who have no means to pay. In 2016, Mission Cataract USA makes ophthalmologic history by providing the free cataract surgery for 25 years.
To commemorate its anniversary Mission Cataract USA is declaring December 2016 Mission Cataract month and recruiting doctors nationwide to perform free cataract surgery in December and give the gift of sight for Christmas.
To apply for the free surgery visit the Mission Cataract USA website at www.MissionCataractUSA.org. Mission Cataract USA is the only organization that provides free cataract surgery to individuals of all ages in the United States who have no Medicare, Medicaid, third party insurance or any other means to pay for needed cataract surgery. Since 1991, Mission Cataract USA has provided free cataract surgery to approximately 10,000 individuals.
Like many missions, this one started small. In 1991, Dr. Frederick A. Richburg, his wife, Linda, an RN, and sister-in-law Sheree Petree, decided to do something to help the thousands of impoverished people whose vision, incomes and lives were impaired by cataracts. Linda Richburg and Sheree Petree had long been involved in local community service projects and wanted to do more. They knew firsthand the limitations imposed by cataracts. Both of their parents had benefited from successful removal surgeries.
The question was not what to do, but where to do it. “We talked about out making it a Third World mission at first,” Petree said. “The more we discussed it, the more we realized how many people in our own country need this surgery. Finally we said, let’s just do it here.”
That year, Dr. Richburg, Linda and two of their sons joined with other local volunteers to screen over 150 people. Richburg performed free cataract surgery for 21 in a single day.
“He operated early morning through late at night, but he didn’t turn anybody away,” Petree said. The family decided to take their mission nationwide, starting with California. Petree, who operates a local public relations firm for doctors, took over the job of publicizing Mission Cataract 1992. That year, six eye surgeons throughout California managed to perform over 50 surgeries in the wake of the Rodney King riots that kept many away from their clinics.
The following year, Petree contacted doctors throughout the nation. Hundreds of volunteers, 112 clinics and hospitals and more than 280 ophthalmologists provided free eye screenings and cataract surgery to more than 1,100 patients.
In 1994 and 1995 more caring physicians learned about the program from Petree and joined. In 1996, the numbers grew again. Over 1,500 patients received screening and surgery at 141 clinics from 339 doctors. According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 36 million people live below the poverty line in America. Of these 36 million people, six to eight million do not have Medicare, Medicaid, third party insurance or any means to pay for needed cataract surgery.
Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in the United Sates. Most people with cataracts would not go blind if they had access to surgery. An estimated 20.5 million or 17.2% of Americans 40 years or older have had a cataract in either eye. By 2020 this number is estimated to rise to 30 million.
The guide lines for Mission Cataract USA are as follows: Potential patients must have:
• Poor vision, due to cataracts uncorrectable with glasses, which interferes with activities of daily living and
• Lack of Medicare, Medicaid, or third party insurance coverage, and no other means to pay for cataract surgery.
Surgery is the only way to treat cataracts (the clouding of the eye's lens). The procedure involves twenty minutes to an hour of outpatient surgery to remove the cloudy lens, leaving the capsule that contains it intact. A plastic lens is inserted, resulting in no need to wear special glasses after the operation.
Cataract surgery, as other surgeries, is expensive. The entire outpatient price for cataract surgery ranges from $3,300 to $5,000 or more per eye. Direct medical costs for cataract surgery are estimated at $6.8 billion annually. (Source Vision Problems in the US, by the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America, 2008)
“Mission Cataract USA is a grass-roots effort, without funding of any kind,” Petree said. “Too many people in our country just fall through the cracks. It’s amazing to realize that you can change someone’s life in 20 minutes. Our goal is to have every state in the nation become part of Mission Cataract. We don’t want anyone to go without needed cataract surgery because of financial hardship.”