No place for complacency
By JAMES DOWD
Dr. Matthew Wilson has witnessed significant changes in the medical landscape during the two decades he’s practiced in Memphis. Now, as the renowned ophthalmologist approaches a quarter century in the Mid-South market, he anticipates seeing even more.
This summer, Wilson will celebrate his first anniversary as the Barrett G. Haik Endowed Chair for the Department of Ophthalmology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and as the director of the Hamilton Eye Institute. In his dual roles Wilson oversees departmental goals and objectives, while developing growth strategies in clinical and academic arenas.
“It’s a bit of a juggling act because my clinical duties haven’t diminished, but I love the challenges each day brings,” Wilson said. “I’m driven by a passion to help patients suffering from the diseases I treat and for the Hamilton Eye Institute.”
Wilson arrived in Memphis from Colorado in 1999, recruited by Haik to join the program. The strategy was for Wilson to work with growing numbers of patients, help develop innovative treatments and boost medical research.
“Dr. Haik asked if I’d be interested in helping grow the program and I was excited about the opportunity,” Wilson said. “It was a tremendous undertaking, and I was honored to help create the ocular oncology program here.”
From the start, the vision was to provide a collaborative environment where academicians, medical personnel and researchers would work together to develop exemplary treatments bolstered by a first-rate medical ophthalmic education and training program.
The 60,000-square-foot Hamilton Eye Institute, which opened in 2005, is an internationally renowned facility boasting renowned faculty and medical practitioners. The state-of-the-art facility offers a 3-D surgical video system, virtual reality ophthalmic training simulators for ophthalmic surgery and indirect ophthalmoscopy, and provides laboratory research capabilities for conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye disease, eye-related traumas, glaucoma, and Keratoconus.
“We’re researching to develop better treatments for conditions such as severe glaucoma that have a devastating impact on our community. Part of our mission is how to care for these conditions and provide the best visual outcomes,” Wilson said. “We have phenomenal faculty who are the lifeblood of Hamilton Eye Institute, and we all share a commitment to being a tertiary academic facility and caring for the worst of the worst conditions. Our people do this work because they’re passionate about the mission.”
In addition to being a professor at HEI and developing the ocular oncology program at the facility and at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Wilson has served as director of the St. Jude Global Retinoblastoma Program. During the last two decades he has worked to establish retinoblastoma centers in Central America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
“Working with St. Jude, we are committed to increasing the global survival rate of retinoblastoma,” Wilson said. “So many cases go unreported and that makes it difficult to get accurate data, but we’re putting together clinical trials with developmental drugs and working toward better outcomes.”
Ocular melanoma is another area where Wilson has noticed an increase in cases. Although it is a rare form of cancer, it is the most common form of eye cancer for adults and Wilson said the number of adults seeking treatment at HEI for the condition has substantially increased over the last two decades.
Caring for those in need drives Wilson, and he’s dedicated his career to serving those in one of the nation’s neediest communities. Numerous challenges face area residents, he said, including large numbers of uninsured and vulnerable populations, high rates of diabetes and hypertension and damaging residual outcomes of those combined factors.
“Ideally, we want to create an umbrella in Shelby County and throughout the Mid-South so that nobody falls through these cracks with regard to eyecare,” Wilson said. “Whether it’s due to medical conditions or employers offering insurance, but without provisions for eyecare or those who are uninsured, we have to do better. We have to advocate for eyecare to be a higher priority because loss of vision is a leading cause of loss of mobility and productivity, and increased reliance on family members and others.”
Looking ahead, Wilson said his vision is for HEI to be the center for complex ophthalmic care for Memphis, the Mid-South and the nation. He plans to build on the core faculty and attract new members – the facility added two neuro-ophthalmologists last year – and increase research and training opportunities.
“Research at Hamilton Eye Institute has flourished the last year and half and just as the department is doing well so are our research efforts that will create a landscape for the future,” Wilson said. “My pride in HEI is greater than myself – we are a family of very passionate ophthalmologists dedicated to caring for the community and educating the next generation of ophthalmologists.”