This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a recipient we first met when she reached out to her donor’s family. Julie Hart, from Dowingtown, PA, is a mom of three and a software test engineer. Fittingly enough, she is also the daughter of Lion Charlie Hennessey from the Eagleville-Trooper Lions Club. Her life took a turn she would never forget in March of 2015.
“I scratched my cornea while using contacts which caused an ulcer in my eye,” Julie recalls. She started out at her local ophthalmologist but was soon referred to a corneal specialist in West Chester. Her regimen of constant eye drops continued to no avail, and was finally sent to Wills Eye Hospital in June 2015 where she was officially diagnosed with acanthamoeba, a rare corneal disease.
By the time Julie got to Wills Eye, the infection had been persisting for three months already. “I had no vision out of my left eye,” Julie remembers of that time. “Prior to my infection I was driving a school bus part time, but now I had to stay at home. I was so sensitive to light—I couldn’t go outside, be on the computer, watch TV. I no longer could do any of the things I used to enjoy. It was debilitating.”
Almost a year after the initial infection, in February of 2016, Julie received a cornea transplant in her left eye. Since then, she has been able to get back to a normal routine, spending time with her family and friends, and going back to work. We are all so excited to have her as our guest speaker at District 14-P’s Sight Night next month!
“Don’t hesitate to think about donating,” Julie says as she thinks about the selfless gift a stranger gave to her. “It is so valuable and so appreciated.”
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!