Lindsay Michalski is happy he'll get to see today's grand opening of the $20 million Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute. Michalski is happy he gets to see, period.
The 60-year-old sales representative from Battle Creek, Neb., has been battling glaucoma, a progressive eye disease, for more than 15 years. He has had three surgeries to relieve the pressure in his left eye, pressure that can damage his optic nerve.
“If I wouldn't have been treated back when I started 15 years ago, I would be totally blind” in that eye, he said.
Michalski drives 125 miles to the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus to see Dr. Sushma Rai, an ophthalmologist who specializes in glaucoma.
“The staff and Dr. Rai herself get personally involved with the treatment and the follow-up,” Michalski said. “Many times I've gotten calls late into the evening from Dr. Rai, just to see how my surgery has gone.”
Rai said she and others in her department are excited about the opening of the 54,000-square-foot building at 40th and Leavenworth Streets and what it will mean for patients.
“Right now, we are so crunched for space,” she said. “Sometimes, it's difficult to see the patient in a timely fashion” because of a lack of examination rooms. Rai said the plentiful exam space in the Truhlsen building will mean people shouldn't have to wait as long to get in to see a specialist.
UNMC's existing eye clinic at 40th Street and Dewey Avenue is a cramped, 1960s-era building that officials have described as inadequate and outdated.
The two buildings couldn't be more different. A tall person is at risk of hitting his or her head on the dropped ceilings in the old building. The hallways are narrow, and the exam rooms and staff work spaces are small.
Visitors to the new building walk into a space designed by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture with a 50-foot-high atrium, wide hallways, large exam rooms with digital imaging monitors and three floors, which accommodate an outpatient eye care center, a center for clinical research, a children's eye care center, a diagnostic center and an optical shop.
The building also houses an auditorium, a surgery simulation room for medical students, a library, staff break rooms and plenty of office space.
Some diagnostic equipment in the building, officials said, isn't available elsewhere in the city.
The institute also will allow for the addition of clinicians and researchers. Among them: A husband-and-wife team recruited from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Dr. Quan Dong Nguyen, the institute's director, is a professor and chairman of the UNMC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. His wife, Dr. Diana Do, is a retina surgeon who serves as vice chairwoman for research and director of the department's residency training program. The two started at UNMC on March 1.
“The faculty not only have to be excellent physicians but outstanding researchers also,” Nguyen said. “We are bringing in clinician scientists who not only will enhance the quality of care but also contribute to the further development of the field.”
Do said her charge is to build a large clinical research department within the institute “to give patients more options for their eye diseases.”
One disease that researchers will focus on, she said, is dry macular degeneration, which she said affects more than 8 million Americans, causing blurred vision and, sometimes, a blind spot that can spread. “We are going to embark on several clinical trials of experimental medicines that may be able to stop dry macular degeneration,” Do said.
Private money, the bulk of which was provided by Dr. Stanley Truhlsen, a retired UNMC ophthalmology faculty member, paid for the building.
Nguyen said officials plan to begin work on an eye surgery center next year that would be connected to the west side of the institute.
While she relishes the idea of treating patients in “more pleasant surroundings,” Rai said the building is not what matters most: “It's the kind of care that's provided.”
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