Guerrilla Eye Service clinic founder honored
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Evan Waxman was visiting a clinic in Hazelwood recently when he had an unsettling experience.
The UPMC ophthalmologist saw two people at the clinic who had once been his own private patients. "I said, 'Hey where did you go? I haven't seen you in a while,' and one said, 'I lost my job' and the other said 'I lost my insurance.' This is unfortunately a very common story."
Dr. Waxman was at the clinic as part of his Guerrilla Eye Service, a mobile outreach effort that provides free eye care to people all over Western Pennsylvania.
Because of that work, he is the recipient of this year's Catalyst for Professional and Community Education Award, one of two new awards that are among 18 being issued this year by the Carnegie Science Center.
As the award's name shows, the Guerrilla Eye Service is being honored partly for all the volunteer work done by ophthalmology students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"People sometimes have the idea that today's younger generation care mostly about themselves," Dr. Waxman said. "None of that is true. Our students give four or five hours a night, three nights a month, and they get paid in pizza.
"I think very often future docs who come into medical school are very idealistic but by the time they finish their training they're cynical, and one of the things I'm trying to do is counteract that."
The eye service is aided by grants from the Lions Club and several local foundations. It sees 300 to 400 patients a year in McKeesport, the South Side, the Hill District, Greene County and elsewhere. About 100 patients a year get free prescription eyeglasses, and many more get free reading glasses on the spot.
One of the most exciting additions to the eye service's work, Dr. Waxman said, are three automated cameras that can take pictures of people's retinas and store the images on a computer disc, where they can be viewed remotely by eye specialists.
The Clearvue cameras can see the leaky or tangled blood vessels created by diabetes, the optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma, and in one recent case, even detected someone who has atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, he said.
In the last few years, the tough economy has increased the need for free eye care, he said.
"Many of these are people who know enough to take care of themselves who have just fallen on hard times. Suddenly after being told by their doctors for years to come in on a regular basis, they've lost their insurance and they can't do what we've asked them to do."
A formal Carnegie Science Awards celebration will be held May 11 at Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland. The other awards being issued this year are:
Advanced Manufacturing - Adam Polcyn, Andrew Wagner, Paul Ohodnicki, Paul Medwick, PPG Industries, who created and commercialized Solarban R100 glass, a solar-control architectural glass.
Advanced Materials - Eric Beckman, University of Pittsburgh, inventor of TissuGlu, a new high-strength surgical adhesive.
Catalyst - Illah Nourbakhsh, Carnegie Mellon University, who directs the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment lab. One of its projects is ChargeCar, which seeks to create custom electric cars built by local citizens.
Corporate Innovation - Daedalus, a product development firm, which worked with Philips Home Healthcare to create a handheld device that uses painless microspectroscopy to measure newborns' bilirubin levels to test liver function.
Elementary Educator - Paul Treacy, Armstrong School District, a kindergarten teacher who has created science resource centers and an outdoor classroom for his students.
Mid-Level Educator - Margie Ritson, Franklin Regional School District, a sixth-grade teacher who developed "Science Inquiry Days," where students build and test projects that are showcased on the last day of school.
High School Educator - Jodi King, Chartiers Valley High School, who helps her students apply scientific concepts to real-world situations through case study teaching.
University/Post-Secondary Educator - Melissa Bilec and Amy Landis, University of Pittsburgh, who have developed the sustainability and green design curriculum at Pitt.
Leader in STEM Education - The Math & Science Collaborative, which has brought southwestern Pennsylvania into national prominence for strengthening the teaching and learning of math and science.
University/Post-Secondary Student - Douglas Nelson, University of Pittsburgh, a doctoral candidate who has developed training systems for doctors and nurses using virtual reality to practice medical procedures before they treat real patients.
Emerging Female Scientist - Lillian Chong, University of Pittsburgh, who has used computer power to analyze such biochemical processes as protein folding and binding.
Start-Up Entrepreneur - Nicholas Kuhn, COO of ALung Technologies Inc., which has developed the HemoLung, which helps people with breathing problems in the ICU.
Entrepreneur - Henry Thorne, founder of Thorley Industries, which has developed such diverse products as the Aethon Tug, which delivers supplies in hospitals; and through its 4moms label, the self-folding Origami stroller and the forthcoming Breeze play-yard.
Environmental - Tom Joseph, Epiphany Solar Water Systems, which is creating a low-cost solar-powered water purification unit for developing nations.
Information Technology - David Sharbaugh, president of SmartRoom, which provides a touch-screen system for entering medical information on a patient that can also be viewed by the patient and family members.
Life Sciences - Joel Schuman, chairman of Pitt's Department of Ophthalmology, who pioneered the development of optical coherence tomography, a powerful tool that aids in the early detection of glaucoma.
Science Communicator - Timothy Puko, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, for his articles on the Marcellus Shale gas industry and its long-term environmental impact.
First Published February 6, 2012 12:50 pm