COLORADO SPRINGS. Those who live in privilege often take much for granted, which is why mission trips are so eye opening for those who participate. In February 2018, Patrick Calhoun, a 2015 graduate of St. Mary’s High School, spent several weeks in Tanzania, Africa, with the University of Utah Moran Eye Center. That trip led him to establish a new nonprofit called Vision Restoration International, which will support and conduct non-partisan missions, education, and informational activities to increase knowledge and surgical skill of ophthalmologists in developing nations and among Colorado’s underprivileged communities.
“These outreach trips are life changing and, frankly, that is an understatement. We live in a world that is full of poverty, oppression, and sickness and a majority of Americans are blind to that,” Calhoun said. “We take for granted so many things, such as access to healthcare, and we get so caught up in our everyday lives and we complain about so much when, in reality, we have no reason to complain. Life is precious and beautiful and we all have it and need to make the most of it. Giving back to those in need that are less fortunate is what life is all about.”
For Calhoun, the vision for a nonprofit all came together after his trip to Tanzania. He already had a background in the field of ophthalmology after working as a certified ophthalmic assistant and surgical assistant, and he had a passion for helping people. He was further inspired by the people he met and helped in Africa. During the trip, the team performed more than 500 sight-restoring surgeries in only five days. The people he met and connected with during the trip live in poverty with no access to healthcare, and yet, Calhoun found that they are happy and live life to the fullest of their abilities with a smile on their face and a full heart.
“I thank God for giving me the opportunity to do this,” he said. “If I learned anything from this trip it is that in order to make change in the world, we have to first, as individuals, allow Christ to change us. We need to let the spotlight of the Holy Spirit shine in our lives and reflect on what our purpose is. Mission trips I have taken have changed my whole perspective on life and caused me to shift my focus to living a life in missionary work. My goal in life is to renew the lives of as many people as I possibly can and spread the love of Christ through my work.”
The inspiration Calhoun felt during and after his trip to Tanzania was followed by much prayer and contemplation.
“There have been so many signs that lead me to believe that God is playing an active part in the creation and execution of this organization and our mission,” he said.
Starting and running a medical nonprofit is no small task. Calhoun credits St. Mary’s with helping him to develop as a Christian man and as a leader. He said that he is “forever grateful” for his time at St. Mary’s and would recommend the school to any parent of a high school student.
“Without the guidance of people at St. Mary’s like Dominic Luppino, Rick Champion, Mike Biondini, Jim Felice, and many more, I would not be where I am today. They challenged me and helped me grow both intellectually and spiritually,” Calhoun said. “They gave me the tools I needed to enhance my interpersonal skills and to approach everything I do with a Christian-centered approach.”
Calhoun’s first step in creating Vision Restoration International was to contact an ophthalmologist in Uganda who identified a need for the services of Vision Restoration International. Now Calhoun is gathering funds to pay for the organization’s equipment and a trip to Uganda. Calhoun said he is estimating that start up expenses will be approximately $250,000. He hopes that in five years Vision Restoration will be able to sponsor one international trip and hold one local Colorado clinic each month.
“We have plans to obtain a mobile eye clinic so we can travel to remote areas of the state of Colorado as well to provide these services,” Calhoun said. “This is going to take a lot of support from generous donors. They have the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in this world and to play a big part in restoring sight to the blind and renewing lives.”
Vision Restoration will specialize in providing free cataract surgery to those in developing nations and the local homeless community. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world, but through modern medicine, the condition is curable with high success rates. Successful cataract surgery performed on a family’s primary economic provider can mean the difference between life and death for the entire family.
While not everyone is called to start and run a medical nonprofit, Calhoun said each believer can and should find ways to give back.
“I have a strong faith and I believe that we are called to give back,” Calhoun said. “Some of us are called to give our time and talent, others are called to give prayer, and others monetary support for those giving their time and talent. I truly believe that God set me on this path and without my faith this would not have even been a thought for me.”
To learn more and support Vision Restoration International and its mission, visit www.visionrestorationintl.org.
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)