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Big donation gives free LASIK to Metro East first repsonders

by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on May 10, 2010 at 7:53 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 12 at 8:36 AM

How does this sound?  Free LASIK eye surgery and no cost for follow up care. 

It's happening at the East St. Louis Eye Center, thanks to a big donation from the Pepose Vision Institute.  The surgery is free for first responders and people living in the metro east earning $25,000 a year or less.

Carissa O'Connell had been living half of her life in blur.

"Without my glasses, I wouldn't be able to see you in front of me," O'Connell says.

As a single mom, a permanent fix wasn't in the budget, until she found East St. Louis Eye Center.

"This was just a dream come true for me," O'Connell says.

LASIK eye surgery costs about $2,000, but the $1 Million pledge from Pepose continues a program that started in 2001.

"We wanted to focus on giving back to the community," Dr. Mujtaba Qazi, Pepose opthamologist, says.

In exchange for free eye care, University of Missouri St. Louis students get hands-on training at the center.

"It was definitely very cool -- not to sound unprofessional -- but it was cool to witness a laser beam being used directly on the eye -- live and in person," Roy Gordon, optometric intern, says.  "It's an experience not too many people get a chance to see."

LASIK fixes the shape of the eye, allowing a person to see clearly almost immediately.

"I actually cried the next morning because I could see the alarm clock -- I started crying -- and everyone was like why are you crying, and I said I can see!" O'Connell says.  "This is so wonderful."

Dr. Mujtaba Qazi knows first hand.

"I actually had LASIK myself," Dr. Qazi says.  "In terms of operating, it's made things easier because I don't have to worry about my glasses fogging up or my contact lenses irritating me during a procedure."

"It's nothing short of amazing for me," Ed Zabotka, an East St. Louis Eye Center patient, says.

As a Madison County probation officer, Zabotka says LASIK has made his job safer because his eyesight no longer fails him.

"I think it's a necessity," Zabotka says.  "To me, just being able to see again -- it's wonderful."

To qualify for the free surgery and eye care, you must live in Madison, Monroe or St. Clair County, earn $25,000 or less or be a first responder.  Call 314.516.5131for more information.

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