by Sandra Gurvis
Ohio State’s Department of Ophthalmology and the William H. Havener Eye Institute have doubled in size and moved into a dramatic new outpatient building since Thomas Mauger, OD, MD, was named chair and director in 2004. Despite his many successes and vast range of expertise and responsibility, he is a humble man for whom his colleagues are quick to offer praise as an exceptional scientist, physician and humanitarian.
Thomas Mauger, OD, MD, has been a Buckeye his entire life, literally. “I was born at University Hospital,” says the holder of the Carl M. and Grace C. Baldwin Chair in Ophthalmology, “and my father worked as the optician in Ohio State’s College of Optometry.”
From the time he was about 10 years old, Mauger’s interest was firmly fixed on the eyes. “I always knew I wanted to do something with optics,” he says, noting that his father’s profession piqued his scientific curiosity. He earned his Doctor of Optometry combined with a Master of Science in physiological optics in 1981, followed by his medical degree three years later – all from Ohio State. Mauger also did short stints as an undergraduate in physics at Otterbein College and as an intern at Riverside Methodist Hospital. But his career has primarily been scarlet and gray, including an Ophthalmology residency in which he served as chief resident, a fellowship in cornea and external disease, a Fight for Sight postdoctoral fellowship, joining the Ophthalmology faculty, and in being appointed department chair in 2004.
August 2009 saw the relocation of the Havener Eye Institute, of which he is also director. Part of the new 137,000-square-foot Ohio State Eye and Ear Institute, the Department of Ophthalmology offers everything from routine eye examinations and contact lens fittings to laser and surgical treatments for glaucoma, diabetic eye diseases, retinal detachments and diseases, macular degeneration and cataracts. The Department is a regional referral center for complex eye diseases of all kinds. There’s an impressive vista of the Columbus skyline from the fifth floor where Mauger’s office is located, but he rarely takes the time to gaze at the view. Rather, his focus is on seeing patients; doing research; working with students, residents and fellows; and traveling to developing countries to save sight whenever possible.
In the Eye of the Storm
Mauger’s patient-centered approach has won him admirers and accolades, including recognition by “Best Doctors in America” and several teaching awards. “Patients are astounded when he gives them his private number,” remarks Rebecca Kuennen, MD, clinical assistant professor of Ophthalmology and a longtime colleague. “They say, ‘No doctor ever does that!’ but Tom’s the kind of person who takes his work with him wherever he goes.”
Mauger leads a department of 29 faculty, including six research faculty and 23 involved in clinical care, four fellows and 18 ophthalmology residents, a state-of-the-art outpatient surgery facility that sees more than 50,000 patients per year. He also oversees numerous research projects as well as teaches, advises. Along with Alan Letson, MD, the Department’s director of Education and the Retina Division, Mauger has responsibility for the Department’s three-year residency program, which includes participation with clinics at Ohio State, Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Columbus and Dayton Veterans Administrations. Mauger has authored or contributed to nine books and nearly 60 articles and has given scientific presentations worldwide.
His research has focused on ocular surface disease, responses of the cornea to ophthalmic medications, corneal preservation solution analysis, and corneal changes as a result of laser surgery. Most recently, he and co-authors have reviewed confocal results (whether one focus or image point of one lens is the same as the focus of the next lens) over the past decade, examined the relationship between collagen fiber density and corneal hysteresis (the energy absorption capability of the cornea), and evaluated the efficacy of virtual reality surgical training systems, among other projects.
A World View
In 2005, Mauger and other members of the Department went to Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The National Eye Hospital in Managua, the capital city, was in need of medical assistance as well as improvement and restoration. With the help of Ohio State Ophthalmology alumni, who also participated and helped organize the trip, Mauger and team brought their own equipment and performed surgeries. It was the beginning of what is now an annual tradition.
“Along with cataract surgery, we do corneal transplants,” he explains. “Hundreds of people need the transplants. Unfortunately, we can only do 10 or 15 per visit.” Mauger and others are also working on setting up an eye bank in Nicaragua.
In 2007, Mauger and colleagues traveled to Akim-Akroso, a rural area in the African country of Ghana. With one ophthalmologist for every 500,000 people – and with almost half the impoverished country’s approximately 50 ophthalmologists practicing in the capital city – “There was a great need for eye care, especially in the outlying areas,” Mauger says. Accompanied by chief resident Matt Ohr, MD, Mauger performed more than 50 cataract surgeries during his weeklong visit. He returned in 2009, where he did surgeries and trained Ghanaian physicians and residents in modern cataract surgical techniques.
The mission trips “kind of get me back to why I went to medical school in the first place,” Mauger says. His outreach is not limited to faraway places, however. He has been instrumental in obtaining needed exam equipment for the Columbus Free Clinic, and he volunteers there with other faculty, residents and resident alumni on nearly a weekly basis to provide eye care for those who don’t have health insurance.
A Clear Vision
“Ophthalmology has changed tremendously over the years,” he continues. His specialties – diseases of the anterior segment of the eye and cornea, and cataract and refractive surgery, primarily corneal transplants and laser/LASIK surgery – “are always coming up with refinements, such as artificial corneas and using parts of instead of the entire cornea, and improved technology for surgeries. It’s very encouraging.”
Although the Department has doubled in size under his tenure as chair, with the addition of 10 new faculty, Mauger remains low-key about his achievements. Others, however, are more effusive. “I came here as a fellow and stayed, although my plan was to move on,” remarks Kuennen, “but the open-minded atmosphere of the Department and its emphasis on teamwork are outstanding. Tom engenders a sense of ease and trust.”
For Mauger, the highlights come from his patients. “There’s no better feeling than knowing that you’ve helped someone. That makes what we do endlessly fascinating and challenging.”