This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a celebrity in the world of ophthalmology. Any patient of Chris Rapuano, MD can attest to his incredible work ethic, personality, and skills. Dr. Rapuano has been a member of the Medical Advisory Board of Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley since 1991. He attended college at Brown University, medical school at Columbia University, completed his residency at Wills Eye Hospital from 1987-1990 and a Corneal Fellowship at the University of Iowa from 1990 to 1991. Since 1991 he has been on staff in the cornea department at Wills Eye Hospital. He is Chief of the Cornea Service at Wills Eye Hospital and a Professor of Ophthalmology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. He is also the author of several books, numerous book chapters, and more than 150 articles in the peer-reviewed literature on corneal disease, refractive surgery, and excimer laser PTK surgery. During his ophthalmology residency, Dr. Rapuano co-authored the best-selling textbook in ophthalmology, The Wills Eye Manual.
I had the pleasure of getting to sit down with Dr. Rapuano last week to learn a little more about his life and work. This is hist story:
“Growing up, no one in my family was a Doctor, so I didn’t know much about the medical field. My father was a Dentist, he liked being able to fix things and take care of problems, so going into medical school I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. By my third year of school however, I knew that ophthalmology was for me.” Dr. Rapuano explains when asked if he always knew he wanted to be an ophthalmologist.
Not all ophthalmologists come to specialize in corneas and go on to be the Chief of the Cornea Service Department. Dr Rapuano explains that there were two specific things that drew him to corneas. “First off, you could just look at the slit lamp and see what was going on with a cornea. You didn’t need a lot of other testing or dilating. I appreciated the visual analysis cornea docs could do to make a diagnosis. Second, I liked the delicacy of cornea surgery and the positive results for patients afterward.”
Continuing with the idea of positive patient results, Dr. Rapuano explains exactly what it is that makes his job so rewarding. “As cornea surgeons, we have the ability to change people’s lives, sometimes quickly and sometimes not as quickly. From removing the corneal opacity from a baby to treating corneal swelling from Fuchs dystrophy to performing emergency corneal transplant for a severe infection or cornea perforation, we can make a real and lasting difference. That’s why I come to work every day.”
A large part of Dr. Rapuano’s job is working with and treating young children born with various eye disorders, one being Peters Anomaly. “The kids that we treat are a very special group. They are the most appreciating and satisfying patients to work with but are also some of the most heartbreaking when the surgeries don’t work out.” Dr. Rapuano tells the story of a young boy he first met at 3 months old who he worked with for many years. Eventually it became apparent that his vision was not going to improve at all, and he still remembers this 8 or 9 year old’s response when Dr. Levin gave him this news. The young patient replied, “It’s OK, I’m so happy for what you’ve done because I’ve been able to see my mother’s beautiful face for the past 5 years.”
When Dr. Rapuano is not improving lives and restoring vision, he is spending time with his wife and kids. He has four children, 3 boys and a girl, all of whom have worked either at his office or at Wills at some point in their lives. His second oldest son Pat, actually worked for a summer in High School as a recovery technician for LEBDV, and is going to be starting his residency at Wills Eye this July! His wife Sara has been helping out with Give Kids Sight Day at Wills Eye for about ten years, and now fully runs the event.
From all of us at Lions Eye Bank, and all of your patients, thank you so much for all that you do Dr. Rapuano, you are so appreciated!
This week for Favorite Friend Friday we have the honor of sharing the story of Rickey Colomy Jr. 3rd. Rickey was a bright light and a beacon of hope for everyone whose path he crossed. We will always remember his life and legacy. Over the years we have grown very close with Rickey’s mom, Dawn Ortiz. The story shared below is an excerpt from our interview with her a few years ago. We thought this would be a meaningful and impactful way to begin the New Year. This is Rickey’s story:
“If this could help another child to not have to go through what I do than let’s do it,” Dawn remembers hearing Rickey say. “Where and when” was Rickey’s philosophy as he offered his blood, saliva and time participating in research studies at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “He was always thinking about other people and never expected anything in return,” says Dawn.
Richard Scott Colomy Jr. 3rd, who everyone called Rickey, was born with vascular malformation. As part of Rickey’s life-long care at CHOP, he had endless doctor’s appointments, follow-up visits, surgeries and therapies.
“Something that impressed me about my son was that nobody knew he was sick. If you didn’t know his circumstances, you would never know. With as much as Rickey had gone through, intense and invasive surgeries, it can take a toll on someone’s body and mind but he always smiled. I think that’s what always captivated people. The nurses and surgical coordinators would say that his smile was infectious.”
On January 13, 2015 Rickey had surgery number 18. It took longer than expected. When he was finally in recovery, Rickey came out smiling, but seemed concerned. “He told me that something was different, but couldn’t explain what it was.”
As part of recovery, Rickey was on injections twice a day. He was sore, but that was to be expected. One to never sit around, Rickey began leaving the house again. He went out to visit his girlfriend and called to check in that night. “I said I love you buddy. He said I love you too Momma”, recalls Dawn. “That was the last time I talked to my son.”
Rickey suffered from a pulmonary embolism and passed away in the middle of the night.
Rickey had a wide range of friends. He never judged people. He accepted everyone. “I didn’t realize how many people relied on Rickey,” Dawn recalled. “There was a young lady that Rickey was friends with since grade school. Her family didn’t have a lot of money and her medication would upset her stomach. She would get nauseous from taking her medication on an empty stomach and so she wouldn’t take it. This young girl truly needed her medication. I found out later that Rickey would bring this girl chips and soda every day to homeroom to make sure she would take her medicine. He had a profound impact on that young lady.”
Rickey was a beautiful, kind and caring soul. Before Rickey passed away he introduced his mother to his friend’s father. “He kept asking me to go out with him, I remember thinking what is wrong with him,” recalls Dawn. After attempting to cancel on a coffee date, Rickey pleaded that she go. John made Dawn the happiest she had been in a long time and Rickey loved him. “Rickey introduced me to my husband,” says Dawn. “He made sure that I was taken care of before he left.”
Dawn honored her son’s wishes to donate his corneas. “It was his decision that he made solely on his own,” says Dawn, “I wasn’t surprised he wanted to be a donor. I couldn’t be more proud, I couldn’t be more pleased. Giving back is Richard.” Rickey’s eyes saved the sight for two individuals.
“Child loss will truly rip you from everything that you are. It’s been a long journey I but I continue to hear Richard in my ear because after every surgery that Richard would have which was very intense and very invasive, I would always say to him you don’t give up you keep fighting you keep going and that is what I keep hearing in my head. ‘Don’t give up keep fighting you’re not a quitter.’ And the days when I feel like I can’t get out of bed those are the words that I hear. It’s hard, I do struggle, but then I think of Richard and I know I have to get up today.”