By Robert Haugh
Santa Claran Iridian Hernandez Rios recently was given the gift of vision through the Gift of Sight program.
The 24-year-old was born in Chalco, Mexico and loved growing up in the rich Mexican culture. Her mother moved to California to seek more opportunities for her family.
In 2005, when Hernandez Rios was seven, she moved to Fremont with her mom while the rest of her family remained in Mexico. She now lives in Santa Clara.
She didn’t speak English and school was very difficult at first, but she finished elementary school. Hernandez Rios has always enjoyed participating in school events and working with other students. In high school, she was a part of the Black Student Union and MeCha, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán – a student organization that promotes higher education, culture and history.
She has always enjoyed working with children, having worked as a mother’s helper after school. In her junior year of high school, she took on her first nanny position taking care of twin brothers. She continues to work as a nanny and plans to one day open her own child care center. She is also enrolled at Cosmotek College seeking a nail technician license.
She started wearing prescription glasses in the sixth grade. As a nanny, the children she watches are always reaching for her glasses and she has had many bumps and bruises on the bridge of her nose over the years. A friend informed her about the Gift of Sight Program, which was initiated by Dr. Michael Furlong in 2002.
Because of the physical shape of her corneas, Iridian had the PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) procedure which is performed on the cornea surface rather than LASIK which is performed on the inside of the cornea.
Unlike cataract surgery, LASIK and PRK are elective procedures not covered by insurance, which prompted Furlong to start the Gift of Sight program to provide these services for up to 10 individuals each year who could not afford the procedure. The program has provided over $1.2 million in services.
“I had a moment when I turned and looked at my boyfriend and said: ‘don’t panic, I’m crying but it’s ok – I can see the TV!’” said Iridian in a statement.
In 2011, Furlong received the prestigious Jefferson Award — the “Nobel Prize” for community and public service, for his efforts with the Gift of Sight program.