JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the past 25 years, Jacksonville ophthalmologist Dr. Jeff Levenson has been making the holiday season brighter for uninsured patients who need cataract surgery.
On Wednesday, he performed the surgeries again for nine people severely in need of the procedure. The surgeries will be spread over three days this year and help a total of 16.
Board chair of local nonprofit Vision Is Priceless and owner of ophthalmic practice Levenson Eye Associates, Levenson has performed the free surgeries through his Gift of Sight program, which is in part funded by donations from the community and Dr. Robert Schnipper and the Riverside Park Surgicenter.
“This is my favorite thing of the year,” Levenson said. “I get to restore sight to people who otherwise couldn’t get it done. I’ve been doing this now for 25 years, and it’s a community-wide project. Many doctors and nurses donate their time. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get together and remember what we’re really all about.”
Patients are referred to Levenson by Vision Is Priceless and the Florida Division of Blind Services. Through the years, it has helped more than 360 people.
“The patients (Dr. Levenson) is helping were identified through a screening with (Vision Is Priceless),” said Jami Gaff Bueker, Vision Is Priceless Executive Director. “After determining they did not have insurance for the next steps, we were able to refer them for an eye exam and then help them get specialty care. That’s where Dr. Levenson steps in and helps. It’s an amazing day to be able to give people the gift of sight, which is something we might take for granted.”
For Hilliard, Fla., resident Raymond Stokes, the surgery couldn’t come at a better time. He was referred to Vision Is Priceless by his optometrist in Callahan and was thrilled when he found out he would be one of Levenson’s Gift of Sight patients this year.
“It’s been a rough journey for me,” he said. “In the last couple of years, my eyesight got real bad. I couldn’t see to go to work in the morning.”
Stokes spent 40 years as a mill worker – 25 in steel and 15 in paper – which he says may have caused his condition with being exposed to various chemicals and sustaining multiple eye injuries. Currently on disability and out of work for nearly two years, the surgery will allow Stokes to have clearer vision so he can perform every day activities better.
“This is best Christmas gift I could get,” he said. “This surgery will be life-changing for me.”
A native of Jamaica, Elaine Myers, 64, just wants to be more active and help around the house more. With her surgery, she will now be able to do the little things so many take for granted, which is something that makes Myers’ daughter Odette Ennis extremely happy.
“I’m excited about it,” Ennis said. “(She’ll be able to) be more independent, go out on her own and we’ll be able to do fun things together. (I am so thankful for) Vision Is Priceless.”