Mario’s passion: Giving the poor their sight back
Garbed in a surgical gown and armed with incision instruments, Dr. Mario Reyes sits on a chair and does cataract surgery on a patient.
In 15 minutes, the procedure is over.
It can be just another day in the life of Reyes except that, in this instance, he attends to a dozen more patients who don’t have to pay him a single centavo.
An opthalmologist for 25 years, Reyes has a choice to spend most of his time in an air-conditioned clinic, waiting on patients, while racking up professional fees.
But the 55-year-old physician chose the hard way.
Since 1998, Reyes makes it a point to conduct eye missions in different parts of the country for free.
His primary patrons are those suffering from cataract and cannot afford surgery.
Cataract surgery for one eye costs around P50,000, and even more depending on the lens to be used.
“That is very expensive, isn’t it? The way I see it, nobody — like the ones I cater to — can get that kind of amount. They go to hospitals and were asked to produce that amount. I felt bad about it,” Reyes tells Cebu Daily News.
“I thought about it and said, ‘Why don’t they come to me, to the mission, and everything will be free including the eyedrops.’ You spent nothing but the time you spend with me and the mission,” he adds.
Without enough money for surgery, many people with cataract end up blind.
But Reyes says he wants to sow hope where there is despair and fear.
“They have to be treated for them to see (again),” he adds.
‘Eyes are all beautiful’
Last March, Reyes, a native of Manila, came over to Cebu City to conduct free cataract surgeries at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Barangay Lahug.
There, he successfully removed the cataract of 112 patients.
Two months later, Reyes returned, this time at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish along Escario Street in Cebu City where he treated 125 patients — again, for free.
“While looking at their eyes, all are beautiful. The corneas are pristine, and I could see the happiness in their faces,” he says after inspecting the eyes of his patients three weeks after the surgery.
Reyes collaborates with the Raise Me Up group, a Catholic organization that serves God by reaching out to people especially the underprivileged.
The veteran opthalmologist says he intends to return to Cebu City in August to hold another free eye surgery at the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In the past, there was no remedy for people with cataract. But at present, cataract surgery is done quickly with no pain.
The patient lies down wide awake as non-injectable anesthetic is used to stop the pain. A small incision is then made to remove the cataract.
Patients can go home immediately after the surgery and are advised to wear an eye shield for about a month.
In conducting medical missions, Reyes gets help from the Cataract Foundation, a government organization that assists doctors who cater to patients for free.
Reyes’ passion in conducting eye surgeries for free began while he was still an opthalmology trainee in Manila.
It was his mentor, Dr. Romeo Espiritu, who instilled in him the value of using the profession to help the poor.
“He (Espiritu) said (medical) missions are the kindest thing you can do to your fellow. You reach to our people without accepting anything in return. I took that as a very good blessing from him. When I finished my opthalmology studies, I continued what he advocated me to do. And I discovered the skills that the good Lord gave me has bestowed upon me,” Reyes says.
Reyes was also inspired by his parents to help other people, especially those in need.\
But what if other opthalmologists get mad at him for conducting mass surgeries for free as some eye patients may have gone to the clinics to pay at least P50,000 for a cataract operation?
“That is a good thing to say because I am not doing anything that can harm their practice. I am not getting anything out of this. I just want to help patients that cannot afford their (other doctors) services,” Reyes explains.
“Also, I don’t think I’m touching on their private practice. I am not stealing from them because I don’t even get even a single centavo for this. All those who cannot afford come to me and I treat them for free. Those who can afford go to them. So it’s a win-win solution. I get what they are not treating,” he adds.
Reyes completed his medicine studies at the Far Eastern University. He then went on to study opthalmology at the Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center.
He passed the board examination for opthalmology in 1995. On the same year, he went to the United States for further studies at the Spencer Thorton Eye Institute in Nashville, Tennessee.
Reyes has worked at the Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center where he served as consultant. As a veteran opthalmologist, he was also invited to speak in different fora in Mumbai, Indonesia and Dubai.
“I did live surgery techniques to other doctors who want to learn my techniques in doing volumes of surgery in a fast and quality way,” he says.
Reyes has a clinic at the SM City San Lazaro and at the City Care Medical Eye Center in Valenzuela City in Metro Manila.
The opthalmologist has three kids who now help his wife in running a family business in Manila. Reyes has a radio program in the church-run Radio Veritas entitled “For Your Eyes Only.”
“I’m but a hard-core Catholic who is open to helping all religious denominations. I simply want to do something for the poor,” says Reyes.
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