Orderly Ian Philip escorts a patient after he received the cataract surgery during the Trinidad Eye Hospital Gift of Sight Charity Cataract Surgeries at the Good Health Medical Centre Fitzblackman Drive, Port-of-Spain yesterday.

Benjamin Skinner’s eyes operate at a 10 per cent capacity making him legally visually impaired. As he sat in the waiting room of the Good Health Medical Centre in Port-of-Spain, he told Guardian Media of his humble expectations following his procedure.

“If I could get it to 20 per cent I’ll take that! I’m not a young boy!”

Skinner was one of 30 people yesterday who received free cataract and vitrectomy procedures courtesy the Trinidad Eye Hospital (TEH) and the Caribbean Vitreous & Retina Surgery Limited (CVRS).

Calling it ‘Christmas in July’ the clinics chose people who could not afford the $12,000 procedure and whose eyes needed urgent attention. This initiative has been ongoing since 2016 however last year due to COVID-19, it was postponed.

This year the clinics said they were thrilled to have sponsors willing to ensure that people get the surgeries they need but cannot afford.

TEH Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Franka Mohammed said many people become visually impaired because they simply lack the funds for surgical procedures.

“They postpone their surgeries, maybe they are on a waiting list in the hospital and they are constantly worrying because they have no funds. When they come to the clinic and we assess them we put them on the list based on the severity of their vision. Today patients are leaving with a sense of relief, the pandemic has put us into an economic crisis but these people are going to feel some joy,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed added cataract is the second leading cause of blindness globally.

“Some people don’t even see to eat their breakfast because it’s so blurry.”

This year the clinics partnered with the Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago (DATT) which is quite the apt combination according to the DATT President Andrew Dhanoo who said that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. Dhanoo said in reaching out to some of their members, the association made a startling discovery.

“We would have gone around the country doing testing and we tested around 600 people and what we were able to detect is that 50 per cent of people living with diabetes or more have some form of eye disease. So it’s a huge number and most of these people have never had an eye test before so the DATT and TEH will soon be going around the country and offering free eye tests,” Dhanoo explained.

Meanwhile, the TEH is hoping to add more free surgeries in the future.

What started as an annual project in 2016 has blossomed into a biannual affair. Mohammed said now the goal is to have sessions like the one yesterday, at least three times for the year.

For patients like Benjamin Skipper, he told Guardian Media that days like yesterday make his heart soar.

“I’m elated and I hope through God they can continue their work.”