January 2008




A foundation that cares & contributes

by Don Bell Executive Director, ASCRS Foundation


This month, I have asked Don Bell, Executive Director of the ASCRS Foundation, to update our membership on the origin, structure, and ongoing work of the ASCRS Foundation. The Foundation has had enormous success in a very short period of time, and is highly visible from ophthalmologists, internationally. We think you will enjoy reading this month’s column and believe it will add to your pride in our organization.

I. Howard Fine, MD, Column Editor

Tueng Shen, M.D

Surendra Basti, M.D.

Ilya Rozenbaum, M.D.

Pawan Prasher, M.D.


The ASCRS Foundation recently celebrated the third anniversary of the opening of the Robert M. Sinskey Eyecare Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While the clinic might be the most high-profile of the foundation’s efforts, it’s far from the only project underway.

Since its inception in 2001, the foundation has pursued ongoing programs in three distinct areas: humanitarian eyecare, not only evidenced by the Sinskey Clinic, but also by physician education/public awareness programs and ophthalmic research. The foundation’s three-part mission was developed with direct input from ASCRS members. Prior to launching the foundation project, over 50 face-to-face interviews were conducted with society leaders, committee members, staff, and member ophthalmologists to determine where and how the foundation should focus its efforts. “We felt it very important that the direction be determined by the membership,” said ASCRS Foundation Chairman, I. Howard Fine, M.D. “We did not want important decisions made in a vacuum, but rather with the aim of being truly representative of ASCRS member interests. Many of those interviewed expressed strong feelings regarding the importance of altruistic work, as well as how the foundation might work to better the practice and understanding of ophthalmology. When you ask physicians to pledge time and money to support a new endeavor, it must be for programs that they honestly believe in.” The foundation has always been proactive in its support of ophthalmology and committed to patient-centered fairness in what it reports. In its early days the foundation tackled the problem of sensationalized media reports on LASIK complications through a campaign that made actual data along with representative ophthalmologists available to TV, radio and print journalists. This was coupled with the development of patient guidelines that stressed both the risks and benefits of vision correction surgery. Foundation-driven interviews and video news releases found their way into hundreds of newspapers and magazines as well as the health segments of television newscasts across the country. The end result was a wholesale change in the way LASIK was reported—with the emphasis shifting from negative outcomes to the technological advancements and surgical skill that enable today’s ophthalmologists to enhance vision for properly-qualified patient candidates.

The foundation’s latest program is aimed at increasing public understanding of the treatment options for presbyopia. “We will work to help standardize the many different messages currently being put forth by ophthalmologists, the press, industry, and others, in a way that allows for greater understanding by the layman. The past few years have seen tremendous advancement in the options available for presbyopia treatment. It’s our goal to better educate the patient through appropriate, accurate information and to provide the ophthalmologist with the necessary resources to build upon the discussions that such patient education ultimately generates,” said Dr. Fine.

Following its early successes in the public awareness arena, the foundation broadened its agenda to include a research effort and humanitarian eyecare program. The John E. Gilmore, M.D., Research Initiative has awarded $200,000 in early-stage funding for new ideas in ophthalmology. Awards are made through a competitive application process, and past winners have pursued studies ranging from virtual reality training to composite grafts for improving corneal transplant results to the effects of subconjunctival injections of bevacizumab on pterygiums. “Many of the grant winners are young ophthalmologists looking for a way to advance a novel idea, and the opportunity to present their results at the ASCRS Annual Symposium is for many the first public recognition of their personal initiative and innovative thinking.” said Dr. Fine.

The foundation’s research work has not been limited to the Gilmore grant program, however. During the past two years, the foundation has helped fund the joint investigative committee formed to explore the TASS outbreak and development of the Post-Refractive Surgery IOL calculator program that is now available free-of-charge to any ophthalmologist through the ASCRS website at www.ascrs.org. In addition, the foundation contributed funding to help build the Ectasia Registry data-collection effort headed by Doyle Stulting, M.D., and also available to all via the ASCRS website.

The third branch of the foundation’s work is humanitarian outreach, and with its Sinskey Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the foundation has taken a different approach than most charitable eyecare initiatives. “From the very beginning we were committed to a permanent facility that would eventually support itself,” said Dr. Fine. “The concept of eventual self-sustainability has governed our decision-making from the very beginning. Surgical expeditions that bring in Western surgeons for short stretches do wonderful work for those patients fortunate enough to be treated during their stay. But the ASCRS Foundation’s approach has been to build permanent structures that provide care all year long.” The foundation constructed the Sinskey Clinic with the help of a local partner and then hired the Ethiopian ophthalmologist and staff. Although Ethiopia is among the world’s poorest countries there are still those citizens capable of paying for quality eyecare. By offering phacoemulsification cataract surgery, the Sinskey Clinic offers an alternative to those who once left the country for treatment. This small subset of paying patients provides the clinic with the necessary income to the subsidize care for a much larger pool of charitable cases. “Our goal is to perfect the model we have developed in Addis Ababa and then take our vision of self-sustaining eye clinics beyond Ethiopia to other deserving parts of the world.” said Dr. Fine.

“It has long been our goal to involve as many of the ASCRS membership in foundation projects as possible,” said Dr. Fine. “The foundation provides one of the few opportunities where ophthalmologists can contribute time or money to programs designed specifically to benefit ophthalmology. I encourage everyone to become more involved. The ASCRS Foundation presents a unique vehicle for bettering the lives of underserved, as well as for helping our patients and ourselves.”

A foundation that cares & contributes A foundation that cares & contributes
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