Restoring Sight, Renewing a Life
Image courtesy of Operation Access. Story adapted from Operation Access’ newsletter.
Alumna Valerie Garden, MD ‘89 is one of many physicians who volunteer their time through Operation Access (OA), an organization that enables Bay Area health care providers to donate vital surgical and specialty care to people in need. As an ophthalmologist based in Santa Rosa, California, Dr. Garden performs approximately eight oculoplastic and/or cataract cases per year for patients identified through OA.
“The patients are all so grateful, making it an equally rewarding experience for my staff and me,” Dr. Garden said.
One such patient, named Vicenta, grew up in a small Mexican village, and later lived with her family in the city of Morelia. To support her family, she made tortillas to sell at the market. Typically, she spent twelve hours each day in a smoke-filled kitchen standing over a comal (a wood-fired griddle). Years of exposure to smoke in a poorly ventilated kitchen damaged her eyes.
Vicenta moved to Sonoma, CA in 1999 to help raise her grandkids. Over the next decade, she gradually lost her vision. For many years, stronger prescription glasses were enough for her to get by, but eventually her vision loss was so severe that everyday activities like cooking, reading, walking, and watching TV became very difficult. During a visit to Costco to get her eyes rechecked, she learned she had developed cataracts in both eyes.
Vicenta needed cataract surgery, but she and her family could not afford the cost. “It made me very sad and depressed,” Vicenta said. “I cried often, not being able to see and do normal things. I felt so helpless.”
Fortunately, her doctor referred Vicenta to OA, who then connected her with Dr. Garden. She successfully removed Vicenta’s left cataract in late 2016, and removed her right cataract earlier this year. Both procedures took place at Santa Rosa Surgery & Endoscopy Center, a Sutter Health affiliate.
“I am happy that so many people helped me, especially Dr. Garden, who made me feel very comfortable,” Vicenta said. “Every day, when I wake up and open my eyes and see, I am thankful for Dr. Garden. I’d still be blind if not for her. Now I can take care of myself, my grandkids, and I can even crochet again. I’m amazed that this service is available for people like me.”
“Vision is so important to overall health,” said Dr. Garden. “It’s about so much more than just glasses. As a doctor, it’s a privilege to provide this care for patients like Vicenta. … She has such a thankful heart.”
About Dr. Garden
Dr. Garden graduated from AUC in 1989. She completed her surgical internship and most of her fellowship at UC San Diego (one of two female surgical interns in her class that year). She then completed her ophthalmologic residency and oculoplastic reconstructive surgery fellowship at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She has been practicing for the last 15 years as an ophthalmologist in Santa Rosa, CA.
For more on Operation Access, visit their website.