Program discounts eye surgery for soldiers


Brenna Norman/The Daily Iowan
Abraham Saleh sits in an exam room in the UIHC on Tuesday after seeing his doctor for the first time since his corrective eye surgery Feb. 24.
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Iowa National Guard soldier Abraham Saleh can see normally again.

That will be valuable when he’s deployed to Afghanistan for the first time later this year, he said.

“Glasses kind of hold you back from your potential,” he said. Proper vision in a combat situation is vital, he said, noting that glasses can break and fog.

And thanks to Sight for Soldiers, a new program organized by the Iowa Academy of Ophthalmology, Saleh was able to receive laser eye surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics at an almost 50 percent discount.

Tess Young, the executive director of the ophthalmology organization, said it spearheaded the effort after receiving a request from a soldier’s parent, who wanted to know if the group could help soldiers afford vision surgery. Young contacted the ophthalmologists in the organization, who then brought on others.

“I was just really pleased they were all willing to sign on,” Young said.

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Now available to those Iowa National Guard troops being sent to Afghanistan, officials with the program said they hope to offer the surgery to all those who will be sent overseas as notices of deployment continue.

The UIHC offers one of the largest discounts in the area, though the price varies among clinics.

Although correct vision may be beneficial to those who undergo the surgery, it is especially so for people such as Saleh who will be serving in Afghanistan.

Because of the arid, dusty, and dry climate, those who serve cannot wear contacts. Glasses often interfere with duties.

“It basically just makes it easier on the soldiers to not have to worry about wearing corrective eyewear in the combat zone,” said Maj. Kristian Dugger, an optometrist who leads the program in the Iowa Army National Guard.

With his 14 years of military service and own deployment to Iraq in 2006-07, Dugger said, his experiences with taking care of soldiers have made him aware of the benefits the surgery will provide.

“When we’re sending that many over, it really pays for us to find better ways to get them prepared,” he said.

Saleh said he probably would not have gotten the surgery if it hadn’t been discounted.

All of the surgeries performed under the program for this round of deployments must be completed before April 30 in order to provide for optimum recovery time, according to military requirements.

The program not only benefits the soldiers, but those involved with the surgeries, including those at the Iowa Academy of Ophthalmology.

“We want to help the soldiers who are over there helping us,” Young said.

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