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Sixth-Annual Cataract-A-Thon Aims to Restore Sight to 25

The annual Ivan Marais Cataract-A-Thon has restored sight to more than 120 individuals since its founding in 2017.

During the sixth-annual Ivan Marais Cataract-A-Thon at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Hamilton Eye Institute (HEI) Saturday, June 3, physicians will perform cataract surgeries at no cost to restore the sight to 25 individuals, who otherwise could not afford the surgery.

The all-day outreach begins at roughly 7 a.m., in the third-floor surgery center at HEI, 930 Madison Ave. Since the first Cataract-A-Thon in 2017, more than 120 individuals have received the sight-restoring surgery and follow-up care from the annual event.

Brian Fowler, MD, associate professor, vice chair of education, and residency program director in the Department of Ophthalmology at UTHSC/HEI, and Emily Taylor Graves, MD, an ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon from Duncan Eye, PLLC, developed and coordinate the event. Also organizing the event this year, are Will Evans, MD, and Brooks Walker, MD, residents at HEI.

The Cataract-A-Thon honors ophthalmologist and cataract surgery innovator Ivan Marais, MD, who died in 2017. Dr. Marais was a longtime ophthalmology instructor at HEI.

Support for the event comes from the Mid-South Lions and the HEI Lions Club. The Lions host an annual 5K run to help fund outreach, including the Cataract-A-Thon. The Lions Club also assists in identifying individuals over age 55 from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri in need of the cataract surgery. Those receiving the surgery Saturday were examined at an earlier date and determined to be good candidates for the procedure before being scheduled for the Cataract-A-Thon.

Additionally, support comes from Alcon, Methodist Healthcare-Solus Management Services, UTHSC Anesthesia, LifeLinc Anesthesia, Dutch Ophthalmic, Medline, Duncan Eye, and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

Drs. Graves and Fowler have instructed physicians at the University of Arkansas and with the World Cataract Foundation in planning and executing a Cataract-A-Thon. Both organizations have staged multiple such events since. “Our goal is to expand throughout the country,” Dr. Fowler said.

Drs. Graves and Fowler have been awarded the American Academy of Ophthalmology Unsung Hero Award and the World Cataract Foundation Freeman Vision Award for their work with the Cataract-A-Thon.  

Chris Fleming, MD, FACS, professor of ophthalmology and Chair Emeritus of the Hamilton Eye Institute, serves as a medical adviser to the Lion’s Club and has been a liaison to help identify patients for the Cataract-A-Thon.

Dr. Fleming, who retired from Hamilton Eye institute four years ago, is proud to assist in this annual effort.

“When somebody has cataracts, if they can afford to get the cataracts done, they stay in an active role in life,” he said. If they cannot afford the surgery, they are disabled.

Dr. Fleming recalled a grandmother, who after the surgery, said that it was the first time she had seen her grandchild. “This is absolutely a life changer for people who have cataracts,” he said. “You give people back 10 years of vision in this life. When you see that, it just makes you happy.”

He said the event reminds HEI faculty and residents of the importance of giving back to the community, something he feels strongly about. “I’ve had a long career in ophthalmology,” he said. “It is wonderful to give back to the community.”