For the 18th year, San Jose’s Furlong Vision Correction hosted its “Gift of Sight” program last month. Six South Bay residents—two participants of San Jose’s work2future program, three nominated by community members and one referred by another local optometrist—were chosen to receive LASIK and other corrective procedures free of charge.
Run out of the city’s Office of Economic Development, work2future serves job seekers across Santa Clara County who need access to education, training and support in their search for employment. According to Dr. Michael Furlong, medical director of Furlong Vision Correction, the private practice chooses a local organization each year to draw recipients from. He said it’s important that the organization—and the recipients of the procedure—are doing good for their communities.
In the past, the private practice has chosen clients from organizations including the American Cancer Society, Hope Services and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
This year’s recipients included a man with a rare corneal degenerative disease, a mother of two who has survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a preschool teacher and a woman named Brenda Manzo, who is studying to be an electrician at the Center for Employment Training.
Manzo has two sons—an 8-year-old and a 7-month-old baby. When she gave birth to her second son, she was living on unemployment benefits. As part of the unemployment program, she went to an orientation where she learned about work2future. She knew she wanted to go back to school, and the program offered money and resources to help her achieve her goal.
“So I told myself, ‘Well, what do I have to lose?’” Manzo said. “And so I filled out my application and went through the process, and they accepted me.”
She was looking through one of the many emails she received from work2future when she saw a notice about the Gift of Sight program. Her whole life, Manzo has lived with astigmatism, which means the shape of her eye impairs her ability to see clearly. Everything she sees is “kind of a blur.” She’s worn contacts for most of her life because her strong prescription means thick, bulky glasses. For her, LASIK was a dream.
“I always thought, in the future, when I make a lot of money, I’m going to get LASIK one day,” she laughed.
Again, thinking she had nothing to lose, she applied for the procedure. She was chosen, and on Oct. 25, she had the procedure. She said she was nervous going in because she wasn’t sure how it was going to work. But she said Furlong was patient and explained everything that was going to happen step by step. The whole procedure took about 10 minutes, five per eye. She was able to drive herself to her follow-up appointment the very next day.
“It’s amazing that a few minutes can fix your eyesight,” she said. “I’m very thankful and honored that they were able to do this for me, and I will forever be grateful.”
Brenda and three others received LASIK, which uses a laser to alter the shape of the cornea to clarify sight. Another patient received photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), which uses a similar strategy as LASIK but reduces possible complications like dry eye. The sixth patient received treatment for Keratoconus, a rare disease that affects one out of every 2,000 people and can lead to blindness.
Furlong has been performing these pro bono procedures once a year since 2002. When he was an ophthalmology resident in the 1990s, he worked with patients at universities and veterans at medical centers. Many of them had medical issues that were entirely treatable, but the patients either didn’t have insurance or their insurance didn’t cover the procedures. LASIK is considered elective and is therefore not covered by many insurance companies.
But Furlong, who had LASIK himself when he was 33 years old and who has had clear vision ever since, understood how beneficial the treatment can be. So every year, he and his colleagues solicit donations from pharmaceutical and laser companies, and he said they get great responses each year.
This year, Furlong and his team brought the applicants in for free consultations and identified those who could be helped with the refractive LASIK surgery; a few of them had other underlying eye issues that could be treated by other procedures that would be covered by insurance. Then Furlong and his colleague Dr. Mona Sane performed the procedures.
Furlong said he has every intention of continuing this program every year. As a doctor with a successful practice, he wants to remind himself and his kids of the importance of giving back to his local community. “I’m only 53 years old,” he said. “I plan on working for a long time.
“We can’t reach, you know, thousands of people with what we do, but we can certainly reach hundreds over time,” Furlong said.
San Jose woman gets Gift of Sight via free LASIK surgery