Scripps Clinic MD Provides Sight-Restoring Surgeries for the Homeless

Twenty years ago Karim “Victor” Zablit, MD, an ophthalmologist at Scripps Clinic and Scripps Green Hospital, happened to see a newsletter announcement asking for physicians to volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul Village medical clinic in San Diego. Little did he know his decision to sign up would eventually allow him to change so many people’s lives.

Dr. Zablit began his relationship with St. Vincent de Paul in 1989, providing eye care services to indigent patients at the medical clinic and homeless shelter. After two years of providing routine diagnostic exams for patients with conditions like diabetes and glaucoma, he wondered if more could be done for cases like advanced cataracts.

Thus began a project that has spanned nearly two decades. Roughly every 12 to 18 months, Dr. Zablit brings a small group of patients who are legally or completely blind to one of Scripps Clinic’s outpatient surgical centers to perform vision-restoring cataract surgery. Time and again, patients who have been blind for several years find themselves able to see again—literally overnight.

“Many of our patients found themselves living on the streets, because their blindness rendered them unable to work,” said Dr. Zablit. “I’ve witnessed people who, after surgery, regain not only their sight but their independence, too. I’ve seen many patients become functional members of society again thanks to a combination of their restored vision and the individualized skills training they’ve received from St. Vincent de Paul.”

Dr. Zablit credits his parents for first inspiring him to help others.

“As a boy growing up in Lebanon, I frequently saw my parents volunteer their time,” he said. “They taught me about the priceless rewards and satisfaction that come with helping people in need. And I, in turn, am teaching the value of helping others to my three children.”

Dr. Zablit said he’s also grateful for the support he’s received from Scripps Clinic and Green Hospital. “It takes a lot of coordination to schedule these surgeries, because we have to plan everything from staff and equipment availability to legal and technical considerations,” he said. “Without Scripps’ willingness to invest its resources back into the community, this program wouldn’t exist.”

In addition to his work with St. Vincent de Paul, where he continues to care for patients on a monthly basis, Dr. Zablit has traveled abroad to perform eye surgeries in places like Fiji, Honduras, and Mexico.