BLOG: Leading with compassion, part 2: A hands-on fight against corneal blindness
OWL recently conducted a Q&A with Audrey Talley Rostov, MD, partner at Northwest Eye Surgeons and global medical director for SightLife.
Dr. Rostov, what is the mission of SightLife?
SightLife’s goal is to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide by 2040. This is a treatable condition with a clear solution: a corneal transplant. Yet a shortage of transplant tissue and insufficient surgeon training keep over 10 million men, women and children in the dark. I am the global medical director for SightLife, and in that role, I assist with international surgeon training, help build eye bank capacity and develop a curriculum with a sustainable model.
SightLife assists local eye banks in several countries and aids in management training, providing IT systems and certification. There are many talented surgeons in India, and access to these resources helps ensure they can be successful, which will ultimately increase the number of surgeons that are able to perform corneal transplant surgeries. We also partner with fellowships and training programs at several institutions, including Dr. R.P. Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai and Disha Eye Hospital in Kolkata. Additionally, we work with local governments on policy and regulations for organ and tissue donation.
How did you get involved with SightLife?
I like to think of it as a happy accident. I was affiliated with the organization when I first went into practice. As a cornea surgeon, you naturally develop a relationship with your eye bank because you clearly cannot function without it, and I really appreciated all their hard work in providing tissue for transplants.
About 9 years ago, I was invited to be keynote speaker at a meeting in India. Unfortunately, the meeting was to take place shortly after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, so the meeting was canceled. My husband and I had already arranged all of our travel, including the time off, flights and childcare for our three kids, so we decided to go to India anyway. When I arrived, I was immediately struck by how great the need was for corneal surgeons.
I will never forget a little boy walking into the doctor’s office holding the hand of his grandfather, a man suffering from bilateral corneal blindness with a dense cornea scar and mature cataract. The man had to rely heavily on the help of his family, since there are not many disability accessible services for the visually impaired in India. I performed combined cornea transplant and cataract surgery, and the next day, he was able to see well enough to ambulate. This was just one of many success stories I’ve encountered during my trips. It has been monumental to see the impact that these surgeries have on families and communities. As SightLife initiated its global initiatives, my position just sort of evolved organically.
What was the purpose of your latest trip to India?
I go a few times a year for surgeon training and curriculum development, but most recently, I was there for the Keracon Cornea Society of India Conference. We did a three-and-a-half-day training course that combined didactic learning, wet labs and patient screening, in addition to hands-on training and lectures. We also conducted one-on-one training and mentoring for fellows, both internal and external, across different parts of India. Fellows are encouraged to apply and then if selected, SightLife picks up their expenses to be able to attend the course.
On this trip, we focused on teaching Descemet’s stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK) to eight fellows, and I also proctored a wet lab for DSEK and deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK). As always, it was both fun and rewarding to teach and train these surgeons.
Finally, what is work without a little bit of play? During this last trip, I helped with the first-ever 5K run for the Keracon meeting. I had the pleasure of leading the warm-up and participating in the race. I am an avid runner, and it was really great to be involved with this type of event.
How does your affiliation with OWL support your work to advance the mission and vision of SightLife?
Being involved with an organization like OWL allows me to learn and draw from other members’ experiences in terms of mission advancement for global projects, resource management, acquiring grants and more. Being surrounded by other individuals who are also striving to advance ophthalmic initiatives and make an impact in this industry and the world helps us to inspire and empower one another.
Being an OWL board member has given me an opportunity to forge new relationships with leaders in industry and practice administration, while building my appreciation for all of these different perspectives in ophthalmology. These relationships help me in my personal practice and my work at SightLife. I’m able to seek advice and input from other professionals who have dealt with similar situations.
To learn more about SightLife, please visit http://www.sightlife.org/.
To learn more about OWL, please visit https://www.owlsite.org/.