March 19, 2018
3 min read

BLOG: Leading with compassion, part 1: Oculoplastics for the developing world

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OWL recently conducted a Q&A with Jenny Yu, MD, vice chair of clinical operations for the department of ophthalmology, UPMC Eye Center, and co-founder of Project Theia.


Dr. Yu, you joined OWL in 2017. What prompted you to join the organization, and what experiences do you look forward to as a member of OWL?


I think that OWL is a unique organization with members from industry, academics and private practice who all strive to make eye care better. I am hoping to share ideas and make connections. I look forward to meeting new people within the ophthalmology space who share common interests.


Dr. Rich Hertle looks on as the oculoplastics team from Project Theia performs surgery.

You are co-founder of an organization called Project Theia. What does your organization do?


I co-founded Project Theia with Dr. Katie Duncan in 2017. We are both oculoplastic surgeons, and we felt that there was a need for a specific nonprofit organization focused on the intersection of facial reconstruction and vision. The mission of Project Theia is to provide care, education and resources in the realm of oculoplastics for children and women who would otherwise not be able to fulfill their full potential due to their appearance and vision loss.


Project Theias work takes place abroad. Have you taken any trips recently?


Our most recent trip was to Goutami Eye Clinic in Rajahmundry, India. It is an established eye clinic with two or three ophthalmologists but no oculoplastics coverage. As oculoplastic surgeons, Katie and I require very little specialized equipment to perform our surgeries, so we can easily work inside existing eye clinics like Goutami not requiring specific resources.

We were at the clinic for 5 days and operated on 20 patients. Our procedures in India ranged from ptosis surgery, to socket reconstruction so that a patient could wear a prosthesis, to repairing traumatic scars around the eyelids. We performed these surgeries on both children and adults. The procedures helped patients’ appearance in addition to either restoring sight or relieving ocular discomfort.

Katie and I were the only physicians on this trip to India. In addition to seeing patients and performing surgery, we also gave lectures and discussed cases with the local physicians. We assisted the local physicians in surgery as a way to teach them some of the techniques for eyelid and lacrimal surgery.



Dr. Yu getting ready to take off the patch of a post-socket reconstruction patient.

How was the experience of treating patients in India with Project Theia?


It was a rewarding experience. The clinic had wonderful support staff, and it was educational to see how they handle the number of patients who walk through the door each day. It was also a learning experience for us to practice medicine in an unfamiliar place.

Many of the patients we operated on couldn’t get the care they needed for various reasons. Each one was very grateful for what we did for them. The connections and impact that we made are some of the reasons why we went into medicine. We have been in touch with the local physicians for postop management, consultation and continued education.

Most importantly, the experience gave us more ideas for how to fine-tune what we want to do with Project Theia. We are discussing various ways of collaboration with the local physicians to further improve their situation. We certainly will return to Goutami Eye Clinic and other locations in India.


Are you planning any other trips abroad for Project Theia?


Yes. Each of our trips is aimed toward establishing relationships with local physicians, ultimately providing them with the necessary resources to provide oculoplastic care for their patients, especially in pediatric populations. We are just beginning to connect with local eye clinics that may benefit from our services in St. Lucia and Kenya. Those trips are planned over the next year. We also plan to return to Ghana, where we visited in September 2017. We are also in the early stages of building technologies for possible use to improve care in developing countries.


How do you think affiliation with OWL could help advance the mission and vision of organizations like Project Theia?


With Project Theia, we are educating local physicians and supplying resources to develop clinical programs that may not currently exist. The network of OWL has already been useful in making connections for us. We look forward to connecting and collaborating with more individuals within the OWL network so that Project Theia can sustain its missions and help cure preventable blindness.


To learn more about Project Theia, please visit


Also, check out this short film, which documents their all-female medical mission trip to Ghana to perform eye surgery: