Corona doctor gives gift of sight

By Queens Courier Staff |

A woman was blind, and now can see. It reads like a Biblical passage, though there is no divinity at play here.

Cassy Rivera, a Brooklyn mother of two, was blinded two years ago by uveitis, a disease that causes a person’s immune system to attack their own eyes. However, on December 10, 2009, Rivera underwent an operation that restored her sight and allowed her to see her two daughters for the first time in years.

For Dr. Vicente Diaz, who operated on Rivera alongside colleague Dr. Michael Samson, it was another day in a career he has worked hard to attain since childhood.

Diaz, born and raised in Corona, is a uveitis specialist currently working and teaching in the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He cares for patients with some of the most difficult conditions to treat.

“As a human, when you’re taking the bandage off for the first time, and you see the tears of joy come, it’s impossible not to become emotional,” said Diaz. “It makes all of those years of training, and all the focus and dedication from the very beginning, worthwhile.”

Diaz’s path towards becoming a doctor began early in life, with its roots in his Corona  neighborhood and the household that inspired him towards success.

“In the early ‘80s, at the time, it wasn’t the safest place to be. But my parents made it work; they emphasized academics in our household, and taught us that whatever we were passionate about we could achieve.”

Diaz attended St. Gabriel’s grammar school in East Elmhurst before being accepted into the Prep for Prep 9 program, which places talented underrepresented students into prestigious preparatory schools. He landed at The Holderness School in New Hampshire, where he encountered a new educational environment, but succeeded nevertheless.

“It was a culture shock to go from a community that is very nearly all Black and Hispanic to one where I was one of a handful of non-whites in the school,” said Diaz.

From there Diaz earned an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies from Brown University before being accepted into Yale University School of Medicine, where he completed his medical training, as well as simultaneously earning his Master of Business Administration from the Yale School of Management.

“It was a lot of studying,” said Diaz.

            Despite currently working full-time as a doctor and teaching, Diaz also operates his own medical device company, utilizing a business plan that he drew up himself. They manufacture and market a device he designed, which he said can “have a substantial impact of the rate of blindness caused by glaucoma.”

            Though he claims to not have his future entirely figured out, Diaz acknowledges that it would be a great loss if he never found a way to give back to the community. “I have to believe that if I made it from Corona to here, there has to be a reason for that, and if nothing else, I should be accessible.”