Tommy Fowler’s vision was reduced to a fog or a blur. “The light would have to be just right, or I couldn’t see. Still, Fowler continued to pursue his daily tasks, until he had a car wreck and knew something had to be done.
Fowler, who’s from Rienzi, Mississippi, found help in 2017 through the inaugural Ivan Marais Cataract-A-Thon, a philanthropic collaboration between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Hamilton Eye Institute (HEI), the Mid-South Lions Sight and Hearing Service, and other community partners. His eyesight was restored as a result of the daylong outreach effort that provided free cataract surgeries to individuals, who otherwise would have no means of obtaining the sight-saving procedure.
The second-annual Ivan Marais Cataract-A-Thon will be held June 15 and 16 in the Hamilton Eye Institute Surgery Center. More than 50 patients are expected to receive free cataract surgery worth a total of $150,000.
This event is the vision of Brian Fowler, MD, ophthalmic surgeon and vice chair of Clinical Operations at the Hamilton Eye Institute. He recruited Emily Taylor Graves, MD, an ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon from Duncan Eye, PLLC, to co-direct the event. Their goal is to improve eye care for those in need in Memphis and the surrounding communities.
“Cataract surgery for these people restores more than just vision,” said Dr. Graves, who will also serve as lead cataract surgeon.
“Ophthalmic care is needed worldwide, so it’s easy to go overseas to provide services,” Dr. Fowler said. “But the fact is, it is also needed in the local community, just as much, if not more.”
Patients will receive screening, comprehensive eye exams, surgeries and follow-up care, with nursing and anesthesiology support provided by HEI, Methodist Healthcare-Solus Management Services, Memphis Surgery Center, Medical Anesthesia Group, East Memphis Anesthesia Services, and American Anesthesia of Tennessee. Senior HEI residents will be assisting in surgery.
Last year’s event was held July 2, 2017 at the Hamilton Eye Institute. Thirty patients were served.
The cataract-a-thon honors famed ophthalmologist and innovator of cataract surgery, Ivan Marais, MD, who died last year. Originally from South Africa, Dr. Marais moved to Memphis in his later years to be closer to family. He was then recruited to be an ophthalmology instructor at UTHSC and HEI, where he trained many residents in cataract surgery.
Among those trainees was Dr. Fowler, who not only respected him as a professional, but viewed him as a father figure. “He was kind, generous, and consistent,” Dr. Fowler said. “As knowledgeable and accomplished as he was, he never sought recognition and wouldn’t allow it. He did everything for the betterment of others. This event is the perfect way to honor him.”
This year’s corporate sponsors include the ASCRS Foundation; Alcon; B&L; Novartis; Designer Drugs Pharmacy of Chattanooga; and Cardinal Health. Organizational support will come from Mid-South Lions Sight and Hearing Service; Hamilton Eye Institute Lions Club; Bartlett Lions Club; University Clinical Health-Hamilton Eye Institute; UTHSC; Duncan Eye, PLLC; Methodist Healthcare-Solus Management Services; HEI “Haik” Surgery Center; Charles Retina Institute; Southern College of Optometry; American Anesthesia of Tennessee; Medical Anesthesia Group; Memphis Surgery Center; and East Memphis Anesthesia Services.