ASCRS member and ASCRS Foundation Operation Sight Volunteer of the Year, Andrew Kao, MD, is recognized for his incredible talent, generosity, and passion for providing patients in his community empowerment through vision. Fervent about providing local care to those who would otherwise go without treatment, Dr. Kao remains one of Operation Sight’s strongest advocates. Over 300 patients have been gifted sight through Dr. Kao’s volunteerism and the impact on his community has been truly immeasurable. Dr. Kao was recently interviewed about his experience as an Operation Sight volunteer and his advice for other surgeons interested in local charitable care. Read the full interview below.
ASCRS Foundation: You are part of the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight volunteer network of 750 volunteers and charitable organizations. What inspired you to first get involved with Operation Sight as a volunteer surgeon?
Dr. Kao: When I started my career at Empire Eye and Laser Center, in Bakersfield, CA, I was offered the opportunity to volunteer some time and my skills at the Advanced Center for Eyecare (ACE), a non-profit eyecare clinic in Bakersfield. Having grown up in Bakersfield, I appreciated the opportunity to give back to my community. Volunteering with Operation Sight was a natural next step to provide more outreach and awareness, so that we could offer charitable surgeries to even more patients in need.
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. Kao: Seeing patients at ACE exposed me to the large group of patients in our community who lack access to healthcare, whether that is due to financial need, language barriers, or lack of knowledge in accessing the healthcare system. I have seen many patients who have never seen an eyecare specialist who present for the first time with advanced disease, including dense cataracts, advanced glaucoma, and prolific diabetic retinopathy. By providing financial assistance to patients, Operation Sight has allowed me to provide care for some of these patients to whom it might not be otherwise accessible.
ASCRS Foundation: What was your first experience accepting and providing charitable cataract surgery to an Operation Sight patient?
Dr. Kao: My first experience involved a patient that has been featured by Operation Sight previously. The patient is an artist and was no longer able to create art for a 3-year period, due to her vision loss from cataracts. She was able to scrape together enough funds to pay for cataract surgery on one eye, but could not afford to proceed with the second, until Operation Sight stepped up to assist. After her surgeries were complete, she was extremely grateful for the chance to be able to see again and create art. It was immensely gratifying to hear her wonderment at what she could see, and it motivated me more to continue to provide care for other patients like her.
ASCRS Foundation: Why have you chosen to continue to volunteer with Operation Sight? How does Operation Sight support your passion for charitable care?
Dr. Kao: I continue to volunteer with Operation Sight because of the impact that a simple cataract surgery can have on a patient and their community. Operation Sight supports my passion for charitable care by helping to identify patients who would benefit from our skills and providing awareness of this opportunity to potential patients in need.
ASCRS Foundation: How does volunteering with Operation Sight make giving back locally easy to do?
Dr. Kao: Volunteering with Operation Sight makes giving back locally easy to do because of all the support from Operation Sight. They provide assistance with much of the administrative responsibilities involved with determining patient eligibility, so all you need to do is volunteer your surgical skills!
ASCRS Foundation: What impact have you witnessed when making this care accessible?
Dr. Kao: When we make this care accessible to our patients, it allows them to regain their independence that they may have lost from their reduced vision. These patients are able to earn a living again, no longer depend on family members for transportation to doctor’s visits, and can once again do basic tasks like grocery shopping. Activities that we may take for granted can become extremely difficult for patients who have lost vision from cataracts, and allowing patients to regain those abilities is extremely gratifying.
ASCRS Foundation: What advice do you have for an ophthalmologist considering volunteering with Operation Sight?
Dr. Kao: My advice is to sign up and do it! Once you do your first case, you realize how easy it is, and to be able to use your skills to help someone in need is extremely fulfilling. You realize what an impact a 10-minute surgery can have on a patient’s life and their community.
ASCRS Foundation: You have passionately spoken about the community-wide impact a single operation can have. Can you elaborate on what that impact might specifically look like in a family and community?
Dr. Kao: I have seen first hand what charitable eye surgery can do for our patients, their families, and our community. Sometimes we forget that cataract surgery does not only benefit the patient themself, but also their families and surrounding communities. When a patient’s sight is improved, it can allow the patient to return to work and provide a living, or help to support their household in other ways, which then also impacts and benefits their local community as well!
ASCRS Foundation: You have also been an active member in our online community. How has your experience been collaborating with Operation Sight on social media platforms?
Dr. Kao: Collaborating with Operation Sight on social media platforms has been great! They really work hard to raise awareness of this amazing opportunity for patients. They also bring light to underserved and underrecognized communities in our nation that are often overlooked and unseen when it comes to healthcare. They help to bring accessibility to healthcare to all.
Join Dr. Graham and give the gift of sight 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.