A UT professor and his family spent a month helping to restore the gift of

sight to rural villagers in India.

David Patterson, associate professor of social work, recently returned to

Knoxville from India where he and his family spent a month as volunteers

with the Netraprakash 1999 Eye Camp.

His wife, Melanie McGhee, is a clinical social worker in private practice

in Maryville and an adjunct faculty member in the UT college of social work

and at Maryville College. She served as a writer for the camp, collecting

stories from patients and camp volunteers.

Their daughters, Kaitlyn, 12, and Hannah, 11, served in the camp by

providing water to patients, assisting the nursing staff and working in

food services for the volunteers.

The camp was sponsored by the Prasad Project, an international

philanthropic organization. Prasad is a Sanskrit word meaning "that gift

that carries blessings." More than 700 volunteers from 22 countries

participated in Netraprakash 1999.

They transformed a dry rice paddy into a tent city and a tractor showroom

into a surgical center. Complete with state of the art technology and

highly skilled surgeons, the surgical center became a hive of activity as

1,190 villagers from the rural district of India received free

sight-restoring surgery.

Approximately 22 million people in India have cataracts. According to the

World Health Organization, as many as 12 million of those are blind.

The quality of life for indigent villagers in rural India is severely

affected by their blindness. A blind family member severely impacts a

family's ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the cost of eye

care is beyond the reach of many of those people who live in conditions of

extreme poverty and rural isolation.

With the support of the UT college of social work, Patterson served as the

director of clinical statistics for the eye camp. He managed an

international team of volunteers on the collection, analysis and recording

of medical and demographic information during each phase of the camp.

This data provided information for the camp's daily operation. In addition,

it will serve as a valuable resource for research to measure the success of

the eye camp and in planning future health services for the rural


Patterson served as a consultant to the Indian medical staff in designing a

study to measure changes in the quality of life of the patients before

their surgery and 60 days after their surgery.

It's clear from past Netraprakash Eye Camps that patients experience

dramatic improvements in their vision. The degree to which this eye surgery

improves their quality of life has not previously been studied.

Patterson is returning to India in early May to direct the data collection

and analysis in the follow-up eye camp.

During the follow-up camp, each of the surgery patients will have their

vision tested and be prescribed and given glasses if necessary. In

addition, "yag" laser surgeries will be performed on people who previously

had cataract surgery. Yag surgery removes any scarring left behind the

implanted lens. This scarring can cause a patient's vision to be unclear.

This technology was first used at an eye camp during Netraprakash


In interviewing patients following the camp, McGhee said she heard reports

of the results of the gift of restored sight.

An elderly woman told her she had lived in darkness and fear for so long,

and now she was no longer afraid because she could see.

A young boy told her he wanted to grow up to be a doctor so he could help

other blind children see so they could play like normal children.

A man named Nana had been blind for three years due to cataracts. He was

accompanied to the eye camp by his wife. After having his sight restored

through cataract eye surgery, Nana said he was eager to work in his rice

field to provide for his wife.

When asked what he was looking forward to seeing he said, "I am eager to

see my beautiful wife... I am looking forward to seeing the green of my

rice fields, the moon and the stars, and the smiles on my grandchildren's


Patterson and McGhee will give a multi-media presentation on their

experiences with the eye camp this Friday at 10 a.m., in Room 209 of Henson