Friday the 13th was a lucky day for Barry Clark.
The Dixie Caverns man about to undergo free cataract surgery was admittedly nervous, and his blood pressure showed it. Nurses taking care of him at the Roanoke Valley Center for Sight in Salem almost recommended canceling the procedure because of his numbers.
But Clark’s blood pressure calmed down in time for him to be wheeled into the operating room. Dr. Stuart Tims of Vistar used sophisticated laser equipment to break up the cataract in Clark’s right eye that made him legally blind. Tims sucked out the cloudy lens, implanted a clear artificial one, and tucked it into place.
Fourteen minutes after Clark went into surgery with one working eye, he came out with two.
“I can see. It works,” he told his sister, Patsy Sirles of Salem, who had come to drive him home, as well as Tims and the rest of the staff volunteering Dec. 13 during the sixth annual Gift of Sight Free Cataract Care Clinic in Salem.
He was looking forward to being able to see again, he said, “so I can get my driver’s license back and go back to work.”
Clark has been working for BT Paving, putting down asphalt, but along with others, had been laid off, he said, and was on unemployment. Because his son’s mother is in a nursing home, Clark is both father and mother right now to his son, Adam, who attends Glenvar High School and Burton Center for Technology.
Clark’s right eye was so cloudy before surgery that a visitor couldn’t tell whether his eye color was blue or brown. It turned out to be blue-gray.
Clark was one of nine patients who didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford cataract surgery to get the free procedure on Dec. 13. They came from as far away as far southwest Virginia. He was the only one from the Salem area.
Nine nurses and medical staff, an anesthesiologist and two doctors volunteered this year.
Eye Care and Surgery’s Dr. William Thompson, who has volunteered several times, was coming in for the afternoon shift.
Betty Dunn, the nurse anesthesiologist from Botetourt County who has volunteered every year, said she does it “Because it’s how I give back.”
It was Vistar ophthalmologist Tims’ second year. “I really enjoy it. The patients have been so grateful. A lot of the time the cataracts are almost third-world, they are so bad. It’s definitely a shame you see that due to lack of access to care,” Tims added.
Others who volunteered that day were Charge Nurse Deborah Jenkins, Healther Schultz, Alice Cavin, Sharon Sheffield, Meghan Laurence-Jones and Rebecca Johnson of Salem, Denise Goodrum, Courtney Haggard and Staci Runyon.