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Firefighter receives 'heroes' eye surgery
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Forsyth County News

By the end of the day, Doug Staley will be able to see clearly.

The Forsyth County firefighter is one of 11 public servants chosen to receive free LASIK surgery from the Blue Laser Group through the "Eyes on Our Heroes Day" program.

For the past five years, the Gainesville-based center has held the Christmas Gift of Sight, an annual raffle awarding a free LASIK, or laser vision correction, procedure.

This year, on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the company decided to set its sights on heroes.

"We honor this particular group because they put their life on the line every day, just like they did on 9/11 and they shouldn't have that burden [of poor vision]," said Rhonda Ray, refractive administrator.

"We really like the fact that we can give back to the community and to the people in the community."

The 11 raffle winners came from among 754 applications from current or retired firefighters, EMTs, police officers, sheriff's deputies or military personnel from Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Those chosen come from across the state, including Athens, Helen and Clayton. There is one out-of-state recipient, from Franklin, N.C.

Staley, a Dahlonega resident, was the only person selected who works or lives in Forsyth County.

"I thought it was a hoax," he said. "I thought there's got to be something to it, like you get one eye done and you have to pay for the other eye."

Staley, who has been with the county's fire department for 11 years, has worn glasses or contacts since he was in second grade.

He and his wife, Summer, have talked about both having the LASIK procedure.

"But because I've got three little girls, they come first," he said. "There was no way I could get a hold of that kind of money to get my eyes done. This is something I've wanted. It's like a kid wanting to go to Disney World."

Staley said his initial nervousness about having the procedure was eased during the preliminary exams.

"I tell you what, those are some phenomenal people there," he said. "They are an amazing company. I can't wait to get it done so I can praise them more."

As a firefighter, Staley said it will be nice to no longer have to rely on glasses or contacts. Still, he's approaching it with modesty.

"I just told them that I was nobody special, and I just appreciated what they were doing for my fellow brothers and sisters," he said. "They even opened it up to the soldiers. To me, shoot, they deserve it more than I do."

Though the raffle winners will be at the Gainesville office for two hours, the actual surgery takes about six minutes. The cost of the procedure is $4,900, which includes both eyes and post-operative exams for one year.

"We really love the look on somebody's face when they have this procedure done, that they otherwise may have never been able to have done, and they sit up on the table and suddenly they can see and it's a life-changing event," Ray said.

"Not just for the patient, but we get huge amount of gratitude from being able to help out and give back."