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From legally blind to 20/20

In November, Pamela Baer was legally blind and made an appointment with the Minnesota Eye Institute to figure out what her options were. After deciding she could not afford cataract surgery, Dr. Kent Carlson encouraged her to apply for the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery’s Operation Sight program. She was approved and now has 20/20 vision. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)1 / 2
Dr. Kent Carlson performs a laser treatment on Pamela Baer’s eyes following her cataract surgery. Baer was the recipient of the procedure free of charge as part of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery’s Operation Sight program. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)2 / 2

Shortly before Christmas, 59-year-old Pamela Baer of Forada received a gift she hadn't thought possible — the gift of 20/20 vision.

And even better, that gift came without a price tag, thanks to a new program called Operation Sight, funded by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

For the year previous to the procedure, Baer had slowly been losing her vision to the point that she could no longer read, watch television or drive. The vision deterioration was the result of cataracts, a condition that makes the eye's natural lenses become cloudy.

On Nov. 21, Baer decided to have her vision checked at the Minnesota Eye Institute in Alexandria, and she was told she was legally blind, but that her vision could be repaired through cataract surgery. However, the procedure can come at a hefty cost, especially without insurance.

"My husband does seasonal work, and once he was laid off, there went the insurance," Baer said. "After we had come in here (the Minnesota Eye Institute), we went home and discussed it and there was no way we could afford it."

But then Dr. Kent Carlson of the Minnesota Eye Institute informed Baer that she may be a good candidate for Operation Sight, which aims to provide cataract care to those unable to access or afford surgery on their own. The doctors who take part volunteer their time and for the patient, the procedure is free of charge.

Carlson says he often sees patients who simply cannot afford the procedure they need, which is why he chose to take part in the program.

"A very high insurance deductible is the most common problem I see," Carlson said. "Even if people have insurance, a lot of deductibles are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range."

Baer applied for the program and was approved, becoming the first patient from the Minnesota Eye Institute to take part in it. Shortly after Thanksgiving, she underwent surgery on her right eye, as it had the more severe cataract of the two. She says that immediately upon waking up from the surgery, her vision had already improved.

"I could see people right afterwards," she said. "Within a week it was like I couldn't believe everything I could see. ... I thought it was going to take a while, but I could see things I'd never seen before."

A few weeks later, she had the procedure on her left eye and had the same results. In fact, in a follow-up exam, Baer had 20/20 vision.

"I mean, my goodness, I haven't had that good of sight for who knows how long," she said. "I don't know if you'd understand if you hadn't been through it. I feel like I'm free now, like I actually want to go out and get a job. I can do stuff. I'm not tied down to counting on my husband to do everything for me."

For Baer, it's the little things that have made the biggest difference.

"Even going into Walmart now," she said. "It had been so long even since I could see what's in the aisle on the signs. Now I know what's down the aisles."

Carlson says he intends to do more procedures through Operation Sight, and encourages anyone who may be a candidate to make an appointment.

"I intend to do it again," he said. "Most people do have insurance. Some people, however, have very high deductibles, so if they're truly an indigent case such as hers (Baer's) we'll consider doing more."

As of now, Carlson is the only doctor in the area participating in this program.

"So far there's only 200 doctors in the states that are participating in it," he said. "I see that increasing somewhat. To my knowledge I'm the only one in outstate Minnesota who is doing it."

As for Baer, she says she will always be thankful to Carlson and his staff.

"He and his staff are great. They're wonderful people," she said. "I'd recommend them to anybody and everybody."

Operation Sight

For more information on Operation Sight, call the Minnesota Eye Institute at (320) 759-2020 or stop in at the office at 3401 S Broadway St., Alexandria.

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

(320) 763-1233