Quadriplegics to get free laser eye surgery under Vision for Independence program
Dana Lacey, Financial Post, November 21, 2009
Anyone who depends on their eyeglasses knows what a nuisance they can be. They slip down your nose, they smudge, they fog over when you come in from the cold. You have to remember to take them off before napping. And what if you can’t simply reach out and grab them?
For quadriplegics, glasses are more than an inconvenience. If they want something adjusted, they have to ask someone to do it for them.
So, Lasik MD has partnered with the Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) to help eliminate the challenges associated with wearing contact lenses and glasses. Vision for Independence, a program that provides free laser eye surgery for quadriplegics across the country, will launch early in the new year. Inspired by a similar initiative in the United States, company founders Mark Cohen and Avi Wallerstein created the program with low-income Canadians in mind. The CPA helps find the right recipients.
“We want to help people who may not have the financial means to afford the surgery,” Dr. Cohen says. The typical laser eye surgery costs $3,500 and is considered elective, which means it’s not covered by provincial health insurance.
“It’s already a dramatic surgery,” he says. “It’s life-changing for the average person who relies on their glasses. A lot of patients break down in tears when it’s done. But it’s especially important for quadriplegics. Some have never seen without glasses, because they can’t use contacts.”
This isn’t the company’s first philanthropic effort. Last year, Lasik performed 100 free laser eye surgeries on Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. They also have a long-running program that collects the glasses from the 60,000 laser eye surgery patients they serve every year. The donated glasses are cleaned and sent to developing countries.
But Vision for Independence has created some unique challenges for Lasik. “While the surgery is very routine, quadriplegics often have various medical challenges to consider,” Dr. Cohen says. Lasik employs 50 doctors, and all are volunteering their time to perform the procedures. The free surgeries will initially be offered in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Edmonton and Calgary, but the company hopes to offer it in all 23 locations within the year. “We have to make sure all of our clinics are prepared to handle the surgeries,” he says.
Medical equipment isn’t typically designed for people who have little or no use of their limbs, so Lasik has to tailor its machinery to handle patients that can’t sit up properly.
But it’s worth the effort, Dr. Cohen says. In addition to improving someone’s quality of life, the program is a way to engage Lasik’s 500 employees to do charitable work.
Except for the doctors, Lasik pays its staff for their volunteer time. “I think engaging them in volunteer work gets them excited. It gives them the initiative to go do stuff on their own. It’s very contagious,” he says.