Morgan Hill resident Dr. Michael Furlong—an ophthalmologist who has served thousands of patients in the South Bay Area—saw early in his career that many people around the world who could improve their lives with corrective eye surgeries were unable to afford such procedures.
As an ophthalmologist resident in training more than 25 years ago, part of Furlong’s work was performing cataract surgery on patients who lacked health insurance. On mission trips overseas, he has done charitable surgeries in impoverished communities where cataracts otherwise went untreated, often resulting in blindness for many residents.
“It bothered me that there were people out there with these problems,” Furlong said in a recent interview.
This firsthand knowledge of vast segments of the world that couldn’t afford medical care merely planted the seed for what became Furlong’s Gift of Sight program, which offers free laser eye surgery for up to 10 recipients per year.
“When laser eye surgery started to take off in the 1990s, it dawned on me—because it’s fairly expensive, there’s a lot of people who would love this resource but couldn’t afford it,” Furlong said. “My idea was to create a program that could help people who qualify (medically) but otherwise couldn’t afford it.”
Thus the Gift of Sight program was born in 2002, based out of Furlong Vision Correction’s San Jose office. In nearly 20 years, Furlong and his staff—working with area nonprofits and medical providers for referrals—have provided about 200 free laser eye surgeries to Bay Area patients through Gift of Sight.
The charitable program offers comprehensive consultations, Advanced Topography-Guided Custom LASIK, Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) procedures, Keratoconus treatment and post-operative appointments for each year’s gift recipients, says the Gift of Sight website.
One of the recipients of the 2021 Gift of Sight is Bryce Lynch, of San Jose. Lynch, 46, had worn glasses for nearly 30 years when he heard about the Gift of Sight through Work2Future, a Santa Clara County nonprofit that helps local residents to obtain education, training and skills for their careers.
Lynch, a computer support specialist, had reached out to Work2Future shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, seeking to enhance his technical skills in networking technologies, he said. The nonprofit had shared an advertisement about Gift of Sight. Lynch has never been able to wear contact lenses due to astigmatism, but had heard from numerous friends and acquaintances who had undergone successful laser eye surgery.
So he decided to apply for the Gift of Sight.
“I got called to do the preliminary check, and I was a good candidate. They called me back and said I was in, and I was completely stoked about it,” said Lynch, who serves as City of San Jose Arts Commissioner for District 5.
Lynch underwent his free corrective laser eye surgery at Furlong’s office in October. After some slight irritation just after the procedure—which lasted about 20 minutes—he woke up the next day without any complications and perfect 20/20 vision ever since.
“It has definitely improved my life,” Lynch said. “The convenience of not having to wear glasses or contact lenses has greatly enhanced daily life.
“It’s a cool program, especially for people who might have fallen on hard times, or may not have the money but qualify for the service. It’s a great service that Dr. Furlong does for the community,” he added.
He noted that Furlong and his staff have been thorough and courteous throughout his Gift of Sight experience, which included follow-up visits.
Furlong and his colleague Dr. Mona Sane perform all of the Gift of Sight surgeries. Recipients who have been referred to the program are screened for eligibility and income, and selected through a lottery process, Furlong explained.
Furlong noted that he and his staff are especially proud of having provided recent Gift of Sight procedures to frontline workers who have been “putting themselves out there” facing the risks of Covid-19.
“It’s important to be able to give back to our local community,” said Furlong, who lives on a five-acre horse farm in east Morgan Hill with his wife, three sons and numerous animals. “It doesn’t cost us much more than our time and hard work, but it’s a valuable service for our community.”
Furlong Vision Correction will start promoting the 2022 Gift of Sight program this summer, with a goal to start assessing and consulting with applicants by the fall.