Utahns can give the gift of sight this holiday season.

If you know a disadvantaged elderly person who needs medical eye care, encourage him or her to call the National Eye Care Project for medical information and treatment.By calling a toll-free Helpline number, 1 (800) 222-EYES, eligible callers will be referred to a nearby ophthalmologist who has volunteered to provide free care.

In Utah, more than 1,079 people have called Helpline, and more than 716 elderly residents have been referred for treatment. Hundreds of potentially blinding eye diseases have been diagnosed and treated by Utah ophthalmologists, including more than 213 cases of cataracts, 21 cases of glaucoma 45 cases of macular degeneration and 10 cases of diabetic retinopathy.

Nationally more than 220,000 people have called the Helpline, and some 146,000 elderly Americans have been referred to eye physicians for diagnosis and treatment.

"Ophthalmologists estimate that about half of all blindness suffered by elderly people could be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment," said Merrill C. Oaks, president of the Utah Ophthalmological Society. "The National Eye Care Project is working to remove financial obstacles that may prevent older people from obtaining sight-saving care."

Sponsored by the Utah Ophthalmological Society and the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the National Eye Care Project is designed to help financially disadvantaged U.S. citizens or legal residents, ages 65 and older, who do not have access to an ophthalmologist.

For this project, volunteer ophthalmologists are accepting Medicare and/or other health insurance assignment as payment in full for their services. If a patient lacks insurance coverage, medical eye care is provided without charge.

Eye glasses, prescription drugs and hospital care are not covered by the program.