RAPID CITY, SD – This year, Pam Penfield’s Christmas will include Thanksgiving. The Newcastle woman, who works at the local newspaper in advertising, as a photographer, and part-time proof reader, was experiencing rapid vision loss. Her impaired vision was creating limitations in her ability to do her job, as well as perform normal, necessary tasks such as driving or shopping for groceries. Today, as she prepares for the Christmas holiday, she is giving thanks to Northern Plains Eye Foundation (NPEF) for sight-saving surgery that has given her not only restored vision, but renewed hope.
A few weeks ago, Pam received a call from Northern Plains Eye Foundation (NPEF). The NPEF staff member shared with Pam she was a recipient of NPEF’s Gift of Sight. Gift of Sight, a charitable program begun in 2008 by NPEF, awards sight-saving surgery to underserved individuals with severely impaired vision and known financial hardship.
Pam and her husband have had a difficult few years. Due to unfortunate family circumstances, they became caregivers for their two young grandchildren, which required taking time away from work and drained financial resources to provide necessities such as food, clothing, diapers, and daycare, as well as address legal matters. Due to strained finances, Pam and her husband were unable to afford health insurance, which would have equaled one half their annual income.
With advancing cataracts in both eyes, her right eye worsening rapidly, and at the age of 57, ineligible for assistance to help with medical costs, Pam realized she was facing the possibility of losing her sight and perhaps her employment.
“It is impossible to put a price on good vision,” Penfield said when she met with NPEF staff the day following her cataract surgery. “I am just so thankful to be able to see and keep working and taking care of our family.” Immediately following her sight-saving surgery, performed at Black Hills Surgical Hospital by Dr. Gail Bernard, ophthalmologist at The Eye Doctors at Rapid City Medical Center, Penfield relayed, “Everything is so bright and beautiful.” She went on to note, with the surgery, colors on the television screen and Christmas tree lights are now vividly bright and clear Ð something she has not experienced these past years due to cloudy vision from her cataracts.
“In Pam’s case, vision in her right eye had dropped down to a level where it was really interfering with her work,” said Dr. Bernard. “She works at a newspaper. Her job requires fine, detailed vision and she was really worried about losing her job, as she really doesn’t have the ability to pay for the expense of cataract surgery.”
Being involved with NPEF, Bernard suggested she fill out an application for Gift of Sight.
According to Ronda Gusinsky, NPEF’s Executive Director, the Foundation, with the help of its program partners, has gifted sixty sight-saving surgeries over the past years, helping recipients like Pam regain their vision, and most importantly, reclaim their independence, mobility, and quality of life. Through a referral process that begins with an area eye care professional, patient applications are submitted and reviewed by a committee of medical professionals and community members. Selections are made based on the severity of the diagnosis, general impact on the patient’s life and work, urgency of the situation, overall visual prognosis, significance of financial assistance, and funding available within NPEF’s budget.
“I’ve had a lot of tragedy in my life the last couple years,” Penfield noted. “To have this gift, to see again, especially now with all the beauty of Christmas, and to get back to doing my job, I just do not know how to say thank you enough.”
Gusinsky noted, working with the recipients, who often through no fault of their own find themselves in difficult circumstances, is truly humbling and being part of the restoration of their sight and livelihood, is more than enough thanks. She pointed out Gift of Sight is possible through the generosity of Foundation donors, along with eye care professionals and surgical facilities, such as Dr. Bernard and Black Hills Surgical Hospital, that provide reduced fees to NPEF for the sight-saving surgeries. To learn more about NPEF’s Gift of Sight, or to donate to support future sight-saving surgeries, contact the Foundation at (605) 716-6733 or visit www.npef.org.