Tom, tell us the story behind “Waking Up Blind.”

Sargus Houston

At age 74, Sargus Houston lived a simple life with one good eye and one bad eye.  His doctor in Macon, Ga. referred him to a doctor in Atlanta, one of the best in the state, the chairman of the eye department at the major academic medical center.  That Atlanta doctor recommended surgery on his bad eye and Sargus accepted his recommendation.

The doctor operated on the wrong eye, Sargus Houston’s good eye, and then tried to cover up the reasons for his mistake.  He later operated on the bad eye, but neither eye saw well after surgery.  In fact, less than two years after the first operation, Sargus was totally blind.  Why?  He had developed glaucoma, a rather easily detectable problem, and his Atlanta doctor had not treated him.  In an investigation by his own faculty, a committee found that this doctor had neglected to treat glaucoma in many of his patients.

Gladys Wilson

Gladys Wilson lived in Decatur, the location of Emory University, the major academic medical center in Georgia.  She knew she had cataracts and referred herself to the chairman of the eye department at Emory.  He told her that she also had a corneal disease and recommended she have a corneal transplant and cataract removal.  She accepted.

During the surgery, the doctor had problems and afterwards, the eye developed complications and needed two more operations for retinal problems.  This eye went blind.  When the pathologist looked at the corneal tissue, he could find no sign of the disease the doctor had diagnosed.  A later faculty investigation determined that the chairman had operated on many eyes with no disease.  Gladys Wilson lost her eye from unnecessary surgery and later went blind in her other eye.

Mattie Sue Brown

Mattie Sue Brown lived in Calhoun, Ga, about sixty miles from Atlanta and Decatur, the home of Emory University.  When her vision became blurry and she was told of cataracts, she selected the chairman of Emory’s eye department as her doctor.  He told her she also had a corneal disease and told her she needed a corneal transplant as well as a cataract removal.

After her surgery, she never saw well because of an irregular cornea, and being one-eyed changed her life for many years.  She constantly worried about her eye and stopped most of her activities.  She was very unhappy, especially when she found out that she did not have the corneal disease that was diagnosed and did not need the corneal transplant surgery that bothered her for so many years.


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“Waking Up Blind: Lawsuits over Eye Surgery is a riveting, true story that reads like a novel. While my novels deal with fictional medical disasters, Harbin spins a devastating, real-life account that will make the reader forever wary of the charming, super doctor.”

—Robin Cook, Author of Coma and Outbreak

“Waking Up Blind is an astonishing book of great courage and an even greater passion for seeking—and telling—the truth.” —Pat

Conroy, Author of The Prince of Tides

“This frightening story is the must-read book of the year. I simply could not put it down, then it stayed with me long after I had turned
the last page.”

—Cassandra King, Author of The Sunday Wife