Message from our Director

September 30, 2021

Dear Jones Eye Institute Friends and Supporters:

The year 2020 was certainly challenging as we contended with the COVID pandemic. However, our team at the Jones Eye Institute rose to the challenge and advanced our academic mission of clinical care, research, and education.

Regarding clinical care, we continue to provide state-of-the-art advanced diagnostic and ocular surgical treatment of a wide variety of vision disorders including routine eye glasses, as well as complicated cataracts, glaucoma, cornea and retinal diseases, and ocular misalignment and neuro-ophthalmologic disorders. We have recruited two additional physicians, Dr. Carina Sanvicente, a glaucoma specialist, and Dr. Alireza Ghaffarieh, a corneal and external disease and ocular pathology specialist, who have expanded our ability to treat patients with complicated glaucoma and corneal diseases.

One of our major achievements in patient care this year was the “Gift of Sight Cataractathon.” More than 14,000 Marshallese have settled in Northwest Arkansas since the United States detonated more than 65 nuclear bombs near the Marshall Islands in the 1950’s, damaging their ecosystem. Although they work and live in the USA legally, they have limited access to health care. Many of them have severe cataracts causing blindness rarely seen in the United States but are unable to afford the surgery that can restore their sight. Along with partners in the community, both in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, we organized a “Gift of Sight Cataracthon” on April 24 where we performed cataract surgery at no charge to twenty Marshallese patients. After being blind for years, many are now able to read and drive. This is life-changing for these patients.

Although this was a remarkable event, among the 14,000 Marshallese in Northwest Arkansas, there are hundreds more with treatable blinding eye conditions. One of our goals in the year ahead is to organize “Gift of Sight Cataractathon 2.0” that will enable us to perform cataract surgery on a monthly basis throughout the year. This is truly an opportunity to make more blind people see.

Regarding research, our faculty and residents have performed cutting-edge investigations in all areas of ophthalmology. Their research findings have been presented virtually at international meetings and reported in peer-reviewed journals. We are particularly proud of our Leland and Betty Tollett Ocular Genetics Center. The Center, directed by Dr. Sami Uwaydat, is one of the few in the country in which an ophthalmologist, geneticist, and medical counselor work together to evaluate and perform specialized testing on patients with genetic diseases. This has resulted in ground-breaking research that now enables us to diagnose and characterize rare genetic diseases. In addition, we are now entering the modern era of genetic therapy in which normal genetic material is injected into the eye to replace the function of abnormal genes and therefore improve vision. We are now able to treat conditions that previously resulted in blindness.

Regarding education, we continue to train residents and medical students who will be the physician leaders of the future. Many of our students will subsequently provide expert ophthalmologic care throughout the state of Arkansas and surrounding areas. We are particularly proud of the Walker Eye Surgical Simulation and Education Center. Surgical simulation is the wave of the future. In years past, residents have had their first experience with surgery on patients under the supervision of an attending surgeon. Practice was limited to pig eyes, but that did not accurately model surgery on a human patient. We now have an advanced simulation center, directed by Dr. Ahmed Sallam that provides an accurate computer-generated model of ocular surgery. This enables residents to practice on a computer prior to performing surgery on human patients. In addition, seasoned eye surgeons are able to improve their skills on new procedures. This has resulted in success rates of ocular surgery performed by our residents equal to that of experienced physicians. We are continually developing models to simulate different ophthalmologic surgical procedures. Jones Eye Institute is one of the leading centers in the country that provides this state-of-the-art simulation.

These are just some of the many excellent achievements of our Jones Eye Institute team during the previous year. We continue to pursue excellence in our academic mission despite the challenges of a pandemic. It is truly an honor to be a part of the Jones Eye Institute team. If you are interested in learning more about the excellent work being done at JEI, including tours of the Tollett Ocular Genetics Center or Walker Eye Surgical Simulation and Education Center, please do not hesitate to reach out. I look forward to our many future achievements in patient care, research, and education, all of which will result in improving vision, both locally as well as internationally.