Visiting Professor Antonio Say, MD, presented at the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Grand Rounds on Sept. 8, 2017. Dr. Say discussed working with Dr. Guillermo de Venecia in the Philippines, where they have provided free eye care to patients in need for many years.
Dr. de Venecia and his wife, nurse Marta de Venecia, began traveling to the Philippines and treating the rural community in 1978. Their goal was to restore sight to thousands of people affected by cataracts due to limited healthcare access in the Philippines. The de Venecias’ system grew and touched many lives, and they successfully established the Free Rural Eye Clinic (FREC).
Soon after, Dr. Say joined the project, which he described as the “Cataract Operation.” According to Dr. Say, FREC performed over 33,000 cataract and lens implant operations in over 35 years. Dr. Say shared patient success stories, including a heartwarming video of a patient who was scared at first but, after miraculously regaining his sight from the cataract surgery, happily obliged and even sang during the operation.
Dr. Say stressed the importance of FREC and keeping the de Venecias’ vision alive in the Philippines. Today, volunteers continue traveling to FREC, helping with various tasks at the center and keeping it running. Donations from the Wisconsin Lions and Lioness Clubs and other generous donors continue to be made, every $15 helping one blind person to see after surgery.
The de Venecias, through the Free Rural Eye Clinics Corp., have recently donated a generous $422,000 gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. The Department will use the fund to continue the de Venecias’ impactful work and support the International Ophthalmology program with the vision that was started by Dr. de Venecia.
The International Ophthalmology program was established in 2016 and is co-directed by UW professor and oculoplastic specialist Cat N. Burkat, MD, FACS, and Yasmin S. Bradfield, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist and John W. Doolittle Professor. The program collaborates with institutions in Paraguay, India, China and Brazil, allowing a unique learning experience abroad for our eye doctors and vision researchers.