ASCRS Foundation Operation Sight Volunteer of the Year and ASCRS member, Jeffrey Levenson, MD of Levenson Eye Associates is best known by his patients for his expertise in his field, generosity with his talents and compassionate spirit. Born from a passion to make a difference and acutely aware of the growing need for accessible care in his home state of Florida, Dr. Levenson has partnered with the Foundation’s Operation Sight program to provide over 100 surgeries in his community to otherwise underserved individuals that would have gone without care. Dr. Levenson recently discussed his experiences and his advice for other surgeons interested in getting involved.
ASCRS Foundation: You are part of the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight volunteer network of nearly 750 volunteers and charitable organizations. What inspired you to first get involved with Operation Sight as a volunteer surgeon?
Dr. Levenson: My hobby is global humanitarian ophthalmology, and for years I’ve spent two or three weeks a year traveling overseas doing cataract surgery on poor patients in need of my help. In doing so, I recognize that I don’t have the capacity to fix everyone—there are tens of millions of people in need of eye care services in the poorer parts of the world. On the other hand, there are Americans in my hometown—my own neighbors—who can’t afford needed cataract surgery. It occurred to me there was a problem the scale of which is within my power to change. I’ve made it my goal to eliminate blindness from cataracts in my hometown. And with the help of the ASCRS Foundation‘s Operation Sight program and other local institutions we’re making it happen.
ASCRS Foundation: Can you share about the pressing need you witnessed for patients in financial need in your community and how Operation Sight has supported your passion to make care accessible?
Dr. Levenson: Every week or two in the course of seeing patients in my private practice I run across a patient who’s blind, or nearly so, without the capacity to pay for cataract surgery. They’re often too young for Medicare, with too many assets to qualify for Medicaid, between jobs, or experiencing health challenges. Add blindness to the mix, and you've got a life in steady decline. To restore sight to these patients--and in doing so, to restore hope and the tangible manifestation of a community that cares for them--is the most gratifying thing I do each week. It brings them back. And it fills me up.
ASCRS Foundation: Why have you chosen to continue to volunteer with Operation Sight?
Dr. Levenson: My wife teases me that among my usual patients, it's my life's work and my mission to bring sight to the slightly blurry; for my Operation Sight patients, I bring sight to the blind. It's the most gratifying case I do each week, and the purest manifestation of my best self.
ASCRS Foundation: How does volunteering with Operation Sight make giving back locally easy to do?
Dr. Levenson: I've got a deal with my surgery center for these patients. I do them without charge, and the surgery center charges me only for the cost of goods. The ASCRS Foundation Operation Sight grant helps cover those costs. We do these patients alongside our regular, paying patients over the course of our normal surgery day. They're indistinguishable from our normal patients, except for the love they often share with staff on the way out the door.
ASCRS Foundation: What impact do you witness when making this care accessible?
Dr. Levenson: A few specific cases come to mind: The guy who started to cry as he stared at the cream swirling into his coffee minutes after surgery, as if it was impossibly beautiful; the woman who didn't yet have a checking account, but arrived at my office 3 months after her surgery with 5 one hundred dollar bills to pay her gift forward; the homeless guy I didn't recognize a week after surgery, because he'd showered, gotten a haircut, and found a place to shelter. These surgeries take me ten minutes, but they have the power to change a life forever.
ASCRS Foundation: What advice do you have for an ophthalmologist considering volunteering with Operation Sight?
Dr. Levenson: There's a reason you chose to be an ophthalmologist. Amidst the daily problems of staffing an office, running a business and meeting a payroll, it's often easy to lose sight of that reason. Operation Sight brings me back every week to the reason I do what I do. It's the purest expression of my best self. It reminds me daily of the remarkable magic trick every ophthalmologist knows, and its capacity to change the world.
Do you share Dr. Levenson’s passion for providing accessible care in your community? Contact Program Manager Rachel Goode at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about volunteering with the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight program.