Flying doctors

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PHOENIX -- When eye surgeon  Dr. Lothair Bluth and his team head to work in the morning, it's not your ordinary commute. In fact, sometimes it requires a little extra effort.

“We usually are in the plane that we have to pedal,“ he joked.

Well, the plane was a little larger than that the day Bluth’s team from Southwestern Eye Centers headed to Prescott, but on any given day it is not unusual to find him or someone from his team boarding a plane headed to a small Arizona community.

Bluth said they cover most of rural Arizona and beyond.

“The most distant and the smallest both is Deming, N.M.," he said. "We have an office in New Mexico. We have offices in Nogales, we have offices in Yuma, Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City, Kingman, the White Mountain area.“

Many of these cities have only optometrists, a few may have cataract surgeons but lack other specialists.

According to Bluth, “Glaucoma, retina, strabismus, there are many sub specialties that don't have access to many of the small communities.“

Bluth said many of the small communities have no eye care doctors at all.

When Bluth first started in Arizona about 30 years ago, he worked with an eye doctor who was also a pilot and they pioneered the idea of taking eye care to the patients.

“Sometimes it is a three-or four-hour commute for the patients,“ he said.

But with Bluth traveling to them, patients like Tom Mcgahy can come in for cataract surgery first thing in the morning and after just a few minutes in the operating room, be up and ready to head straight home. Mcgahy said being close to home is a nice bonus.

“I mean it is just fantastic as far as I am concerned,” he said.

Marie Rosmaita, who was returning for a laser treatment, couldn’t agree more.

“It is fabulous to have the specialists right here, just fabulous, it really is," she said. "Because it is a visual problem and you have to depend on someone else or hire a driver service.”

And those options just aren't available for some people.

“We see that everyday, you know people who just say, 'Look, if you weren't coming to take care of us here I would just lose my vision or I wouldn't be able to get the services that I need,'” Bluth said.

Bluth said that makes it easy to see why 30 years later he's still headed to work wherever the plane takes him.

“I think everyone appreciates it, the whole staff knows they are doing a great service for the community,” he said.