Heroes of Orbis: Dr. Wallace L.M Alward M.D.

Dr. Lee Alward is one of the world's leading Glaucoma experts and has been a member of the Orbis family for more than 20 years. In 2020 he gave more virtual training sessions than any other Orbis Volunteer Faculty.

Dr. Alward is currently Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Iowa after having served the university for over 30 years at .

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Alward didn't get to do much travelling in 2020. But, thanks to our Flying Eye Hospital team transforming their hands-on program into virtual training, he was still able to share his world-class skills from the safety of his home.

We would like to thank Dr. Alward for playing a leading role in our first ever virtual Flying Eye Hospital Projects in Zambia and Mongolia. Mongolia, in particular, was a huge success, with the highest enrollment of all 2020 courses and highest attendance in live sessions! With this crucial training, Mongolian eye teams will be better equipped to save the sight of children like little Marla.

Ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist Dr. Wallace L.M. Alward outside of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital

Long-time Orbis volunteer and glaucoma expert Dr. Lee Alward

Prior to 2020 our veteran volunteer has taught fellow eye teams on more than six of our Flying Eye Hospital programs. He has also made remarkable contributions in the field of glaucoma research. His passion for his work in eye health and commitment to fighting blindness also inspired his own daughter Erin to follow in his footsteps.

He was recently featured in Glaucoma Today in an article about our inaugural Virtual Flying Eye Hospital project in Zambia.

Skills & Expertise

Dr. Alward graduated from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1976, completing his residency at the University of Louisville Hospital, followed by a glaucoma fellowship at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

A major focus of his research over the last few years has been the molecular genetics of glaucoma. He was involved in the discovery of the myocilin gene for primary open angle glaucoma, the PITX2 and FOXC1 genes for Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome, and the TBK1 gene for normal tension glaucoma.

Teacher & Trainer

[Slideshow: Dr. Alward's wonderful work with Orbis taken before COVID-19 pandemic]

A natural born teacher and keen traveler, over the last two decades Dr. Alward has dedicated his free time to exchanging skills with local eye doctors on Flying Eye Hospital projects in China, Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines and most recently Hue, Vietnam in 2019.

Speaking about the long-term positive impact of being an Orbis volunteer and boosting the skills of eye professionals, he once told us: "The most gratifying thing is to work somewhere where those whom you trained with Orbis go on to become prominent in their field. I think for me, the most dramatic example was in Kenya. The two physicians that I worked with were skilled and enthusiastic.

"My role was to teach them pediatric glaucoma because there was no care for it at the time in the country. They were like sponges and so eager to learn, they went on to pursue more training in Canada with the support of Orbis and have now become prominent figures in glaucoma in Africa. That's been fun to see and hear their names called out as leaders in ophthalmology."

I like the way that Orbis makes the difference in a sustained way

Dr. Lee Alward

Orbis Volunteer Faculty

When asked what he likes about our organization and its mission, he said: "I like the way that Orbis makes the difference in a sustained way rather than just swooping in and taking a bunch of cataracts out or doing a bunch of glaucoma surgeries. You know, teaching people how to take care of glaucoma patients, you really feel like it makes such a bigger difference. I think that what I learned the first time I went out with Orbis is that it's not just ophthalmologists who are making a huge difference.

"The anesthesiologists are teaching great stuff and the nurses, and probably the most important and surprising thing to me were the bioengineers who maintain and fix all the equipment. They are the ones who teach people how to maintain their Phaco machines and their laser equipment. I never even imagined that that was something that Orbis did."

Dr. Alward leading a virtual Flying Eye Hospital lecture for Zambia eye health professionals

Dr. Alward leading a Zambia Flying Eye Hospital virtual session

More recently, Dr. Alward has taken his training online for the first ever virtual Flying Eye Hospital training programs in Zambia and Mongolia.

Speaking about his latest volunteer role he said: "Over the weeks, I think they've gotten more comfortable, just to interrupt me and ask questions, which I really enjoy, I'd much rather ask questions than just talk. So I've enjoyed it, I don't enjoy it as much as being with people in person, but that's true of virtually everything we're doing right now in this pandemic. So, I think it's a nice compromise.

"And even if they're not specifically learning a ton from me in these one hour sessions, I think in this ‘flipped classroom’ format, hopefully when they're reading, or doing either the Orbis module or doing my curriculum, it just spurs them to spend this time studying and thinking. And then I would just hope it reinforces what they've learned or answer any questions that they have."

Thank you Dr. Alward for being a global leader in ophthalmology and glaucoma. We're extremely fortunate to have your exceptional knowledge and passion for teaching and developing young residents into fully-fledged ophthalmologists.

Thanks to people like you, we can leave a long-lasting legacy of eye health in communities that need it the most.

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