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NEWS | March 18, 2013

MCAHC eye clinic helps patients see into a better future

By Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The mission statement of the McDonald Army Health Center at Fort Eustis, Va., is to "ensure the medical readiness of our Nation's fighting forces and promote the health of all those entrusted to our care."

Those at the MCAHC eye clinic - one of the only military eye clinics in the Tidewater area that also serves retirees and family members - are doing just that.

The clinic, a portion of the Ears, Eyes, Nose and Throat Clinic, is divided into two sections - Ophthalmology, which deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye, and Optometry, which is the prescription and fitting of lenses to improve the health of vision.

When patients just aren't seeing too clearly, they are referred to the sole ophthalmologist in the clinic, Dr. (Lt. Col.) Michael Hamilton.

Hamilton's section provides advanced specialty eye care with medical and surgical treatment for diseases and conditions of the eye. Specific areas of treatment include glaucoma, cornea, retina, cataract extraction, diabetic eye exams and general ophthalmology.

Hamilton and his surgical staff perform four to seven surgeries in a week. The team performs approximately 10 laser refractive surgeries per month, which are reserved for active duty Service members.

With limited manning, the surgeries are held only one day out of the week, lasting no longer than 20 minutes each. Hamilton said he enjoys every minute of it.

"I love the clinical and surgical part of my job; I love seeing patients," said Hamilton. "I love doing things with my hands and doing surgery, and I love watching people get better vision. I don't think there's anything as rewarding as watching people come back with better vision, improving their quality of life because of something you're able to do. That is a great part of my job."

The Optometry section provides comprehensive vision examinations for patients ages five and older. The staff of three optometrists and five technicians prescribes and orders glasses, performs limited contact lens examinations and conducts eye health evaluations for all active duty Service members. They also prescribe medications to treat eye diseases or injuries.

Because TRICARE does not cover the costs, however, the clinic does not provide initial or new contact lens fittings.

In addition to the routine eye exams, the clinic receives referrals from other primary care clinics for acute eye conditions such as superficial eye injuries, according to Dr. (Lt. Col.) Douglas Gray, the chief of the Department of Specialty Care.

With 10 personnel working in the eye clinic and each provider averaging approximately 16 patients a day, things can get pretty busy.

The hospital provides a staff of 20 operating room nurses and technicians to help with every operation, who in the past nine years, have performed approximately 1,200 successful cataract  surgeries.

Although their primary focus are military members, approximately 150 patients of all ages come through the eye clinic every week.

Of the challenges of finding time for the administrative tasks and caring for the patients with limited manning, Hamilton's main concern is reaching out to the retirees.

"You can be seen here if you're over 65. A lot of people feel like once they turn 65, they can't come to the specialty care clinics anymore, and that's not true," Hamilton explained. "We have the latest and greatest technology for eye surgery. In a civilian practice you would have to pay out of pocket for some of that technology (premium intraocular lenses: multi-focal and astigmatism-correcting), but not here at McDonald Army Health Center. That's why we would love for (people over 65) to come here for their cataract surgery and not feel like they need to go outside the military system for their eye surgical care."

All of the hard-working personnel at the MCAHC eye clinic are true professionals who love their jobs and work diligently to take care of each patient.

"I think the opportunity to serve the active duty and retired populations is extremely rewarding," said Gray. "It's commonly expressed that we have the best patients in the world. I think everyone here really enjoys not only what they do, but especially who they are serving."