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Professor from the Bahamas receives life-changing cornea transplant for free in Jacksonville

Freeman Kelly has slowly been losing his eyesight. He can no longer drive or even walk places by himself.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — One man is coming to Jacksonville for the gift of sight. An adjunct professor at the University of Bahamas is having a cornea transplant in Jacksonville.

Florida Eye Specialists' ophthalmologist Dr. Ravi Patel is performing the surgery pro bono. It's a life-changing surgery for 71-year-old Freeman Kelly. 

Kelly says his vision is blurry and out of focus. So much so that he can no longer drive or walk by himself. He's lost his independence.

“It’s like looking through a foggy windshield when it’s humid and the windshield steamed up and you clear it with the wipers and it doesn’t make any difference," Kelly said.

Kelly has suffered from glaucoma and cataracts and has had three other eye surgeries over the years, but in February 2021, he could clearly see something was still wrong.

Dr. Patel explains the inside layer of his cornea is not functional. He’s going to transplant it with donor cells.

“He’s developed swelling or decompensation of his cornea which has caused him to have blurry vision," Dr. Patel said.

It’s a 45-minute surgery that can cost about $10,000 - sometimes more - but you can’t put a price on eyesight. The Florida Eye Specialists are doing the surgery for free along with the Lions Eye Institute which is providing the donor cells.

When Kelly leaves Jacksonville, his vision won’t be perfect but as he heals he will slowly gain it back and get his independence back as well. He says he’s excited to continue teaching and be able to drive himself around again.

This is one of about 30 pro-bono surgeries that the Florida Eye Specialists do every year.