Frank Bucci ’74
Visionary Eye Surgeon
By Maureen Harmon
Frank Bucci tells the story of a blind Peruvian grandfather who was led around by his grandson. Though he held the little boy’s hand every day, he had never actually seen him. And according to Bucci, a renowned eye surgeon, the man’s blindness, caused by cataracts, was completely treatable—he simply didn’t have the money for treatment and his village didn’t have the technology or surgeons to treat him. When the Eye Institute of the Sacred Heart (Instituto de Ojos Sacro Cuore) opened in Lima in 2008, the man was able to have cataract surgery, and following the relatively simple procedure, he was able to see his grandson for the first time.
Bucci doesn’t tell the story because he wants to be recognized for his good deeds (he was the one who built the Eye Institute and performed the man’s surgery). For the modest Bucci, establishing the Institute to help poor Peruvian patients was the natural thing to do. “Forty-five million people in the world are blind from cataracts,” he said. “If the ‘haves’ said, we want to eliminate blindness in the ‘have nots,’ they could do it. It costs $100 or less to do a 10-minute surgery.” You just need surgeons willing to perform the work and a couple of “haves” willing to put up the money. “You literally could end world blindness from cataracts.”
While the Institute can’t end world blindness on its own, Bucci and his team plan to make a large dent. When the Clinton Foundation awarded a grant last year to assist them, they estimated it would take the Institute a couple of years to conduct 1,000 cataract surgeries. Representatives from the Foundation were on hand at the clinic in March when Bucci and his team completed their 1,000th surgery—achieved in just five months.
Most of the surgeries Bucci performs are not in Peru, however. They occur in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at Bucci Laser Vision, his successful 12-year practice that makes undertakings like the Eye Institute possible—and where he keeps a schedule that makes it tough for him to take a phone call or even to check e-mail some days.
How does he do it all? Ask him and he’ll tell you he’s got an angel on his side. His wife, Angelina, died in 2002, and everything he does is in her honor. She is the one, he says, giving him the strength and the vision to achieve these feats—barreling through 12-15 hour days in his Wilkes-Barre office, flying to Peru to perform nearly 150 surgeries in five days, and working as chairman of the board of Hospice of the Sacred Heart, a nonprofit hospice facility he founded that has helped more than 3,000 dying patients since its inception in 2006.
With three operating rooms and eight examination rooms, the Lima Eye Institute is not the kind of bare-bones establishment one might expect for a facility that treats poor Peruvians with no insurance. “Usually when you go on these missionary trips, you’re in some mobile, makeshift hospital,” Bucci said. But he thought it would be more cost effective—and better for the patients—to bus them from villages to a more complete facility.
Just because he built it didn’t mean they came, however. “You’d think you’d just have to say ‘free surgery’ and people would show up,” he said. “Not so.” In order to get patients into the clinic, Bucci and his team—which includes nurses, ophthalmic technicians, and a Peru-based surgeon who runs the operation day to day—go to towns and villages to conduct screenings and exams. Town governments then arrange for buses to transport needy patients to and from the Institute for procedures.
As long as the patients keep coming, Bucci will keep going back. And this, he figures, is just the beginning. “We’re at the foundation,” he said. “We’re ready to soar now.”