UTMB-staffed eye clinic a ray of hope for uninsured
Posted: November 9, 2010
Ophthalmologists from the University of Texas Medical Branch have helped hundreds of uninsured patients at the St. Vincent's House eye clinic on Galveston Island. For more than a decade UTMB eye specialists have volunteered their time to staff the only free eye specialty clinic for the uninsured in Galveston County.
Every Wednesday night doctors and residents from the UTMB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences care for patients of all ages. Some of the patients would have lost their vision without medical care, according to Dr. Gibran Khurshid, the eye clinic's medical director.
Khurshid, also a UTMB ophthalmologist, explained that the clinic's core mission is to prevent permanent vision loss stemming from diseases such as diabetes and glaucoma.
Under Dr. Khurshid's leadership, the clinic has expanded its services and treatments, which include laser treatments, injections, screening services, treatment for acute eye emergencies and follow-up care after surgery. For a limited number of urgent cases, the department can fund surgeries.
Khurshid said, "We are able to provide vision-saving laser treatments to patients with diabetic retinopathy due to the generous long-term loan of laser equipment by Synergetics Houston."
Appointments are booked months in advance, according to A.J. Halvorsen, St. Vincent's clinical liaison. Despite the busy schedule and numerous patients seen, patients with emergent or advanced cases of visual loss may have expedited appointments.
"This eye clinic is a huge service to the community and to society. People with a chronic illness can continue to hold down jobs. If they go blind, they have to rely on Social Security and disability payments," Halvorsen said.
Dr. Khurshid recalled the story of one patient who had lost an eye in a car accident. A crane operator by profession, the man could not work because he had a detached retina and was losing sight in his remaining eye.
His wife was pregnant, his house was in foreclosure and he did not have health insurance.
Using funding from his department’s indigent care budget, Dr. Khurshid performed surgery to restore the man's sight. Now the man is able to work and keep his home.
The ophthalmologists routinely give hope to patients who have lost all hope.
Dr. John Gonzales, assistant medical director and third-year UTMB ophthalmology resident, told the story of a woman who had acute vision loss in one eye. With no insurance, she came to St. Vincent's after an ophthalmologist in another city told her she was going blind from a central retinal vein occlusion, a disorder affecting the blood supply of the back of the eye.
Gonzales said, "We were able to rehabilitate her sight after injecting medications into her eye. Her vision improved from barely seeing shadows to being able to crochet again."
While such stories are inspiring, the reality is that the need far exceeds the resources. UTMB eye doctors could help even more patients with donations to buy more medicine and equipment.
Gonzales said, "A $500 donation buys a vial of medication (Avastin) that can help to save the vision of 100 people. Two thousand dollars will restore the vision of someone with cataracts. We have a huge need for more medication, equipment and funding for surgeries."
Dr. Khurshid believes that the eye clinic is making a positive difference, even with its limited resources.
"Everyone deserves to have good health care. We're able to provide uninsured patients a level of care comparable to what they would receive in an insurance-based clinic."
Dr. Bernard Godley, department chairman, said, "Preventing blindness makes a huge difference for these individuals and the community. I am proud of our doctors and residents who volunteer their expertise and time to help."
Michael Jackson, St. Vincent's House executive director, added, "The long partnership we've had with the department of ophthalmology has been invaluable. These doctors and residents are A-1 in my book."
Glaucoma, second leading cause of blindness, can be treated
Posted: September 1, 2010
Glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness, can not be cured, but vision loss can be prevented with early detection and treatment, according to glaucoma specialists at the UTMB Health Eye Center.
Dr. Misha Syed said, "Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S., which underscores the importance of regular eye screenings for those with special risk factors and for all adults over age 40."
Dr. Gianmarco Vizzeri said that one of the most common questions he hears from patients with glaucoma is "Will I go blind from glaucoma?"
He reassures them that with today’s advanced diagnostics and treatments, further vision loss can be prevented.
"Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, appropriate treatment is able to slow the disease's progression and preserve vision-related quality of life. Early intervention is the key to prevent further vision loss from glaucoma," Vizzeri said.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, gradually stealing sight without warning. In the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. Comprehensive eye exams to detect glaucoma include careful evaluation of the optic nerve and measurement of eye pressure.
"At UTMB we have the latest imaging technology available, designed to detect very early changes in the optic nerve," Dr. Syed said. "These changes generally occur before any noticeable change in vision to our patients so we have a big advantage in diagnosing glaucoma very early in its course. This translates to a much better chance of preserving our patients' vision for their lifetimes."
"The Trabectome procedure is designed to have fewer potential complications and a quicker recovery for glaucoma patients who may need surgery," he said.
Many people with glaucoma are unaware they have it until there is a large amount of irreversible vision loss. While anyone can develop glaucoma, some people are at a higher risk. They include the following:
- People with a family history of glaucoma
- People with high intraocular pressure, or pressure inside the eye
- Everyone over age 60
- People with diabetes
- People who have used steroids for a long period of time
- People with physical eye injuries
- People who are severely nearsighted
An annual exam is recommended to screen for glaucoma. Our glaucoma specialists also evaluate and treat patients already diagnosed with glaucoma without a physician referral.
UTMB eye specialists serve the greater Galveston County area and beyond, including Galveston, Texas City, La Marque, Santa Fe, League City, Kemah, Friendswood, Pearland, Houston and Beaumont.
Call the UTMB Health Eye Center nearest you to schedule an appointment: