Kristen Nwanyanwu, MD, is an ophthalmologist who specializes in vitreoretinal surgery, which treats the vitreous, or gel-like substance that helps the eye maintain its round shape. She often treats patients with eye problems related to trauma, diabetes and age-related macular degeneration.
“Eye surgery is very delicate surgery,” Dr. Nwanyanwu says. “I often describe the surgeries I do as separating tissue paper underwater with tweezers, so people can get an idea of how fine my movements need to be. We take instruments that are the size of needles—and lasers, and other things—and use them to manipulate the tissue.”
Dr. Nwanyanwu knew she wanted to be a doctor as a child. As a teenager, she helped her brother manage his care after he developed a brain tumor. In medical school, she saw the many ways eye problems can impact a patient’s life. “It could be something as small as, ‘When I'm reading, I miss a few letters,’" she says, explaining that this is a symptom of a macular hole that actually does take a small piece out of the central vision. “Or it could be something as large as, “’I used to be able to see, then two days ago I saw flashing lights and now I don't see anything.’" The latter can be retinal detachment, meaning the lining or film in the retina that has come down like wallpaper and is no longer sending visual information to the brain. Dr. Nwanyanwu now performs surgery for both of these conditions.
An assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual science at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Nwanyanwu enjoys working the Yale Eye Center because she has quick access to colleagues who often provide valuable input for her cases. “And there is a warmth here,” she says. “We all work together very well. I know the glaucoma specialists, the ocular oncologists, the uveitis specialist, the cornea team. When I’m talking to a patient about what's happening with their eye, I might go out into the hall and see four different kinds of eye doctors. We also meet regularly to talk about our complex cases. I think that is the best way to do things, and it leads to high quality care.”