Luciano V. Del Priore, MD, PhD, is chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science, leading a sophisticated group of eye specialists. He also is a highly skilled retinal surgeon who cares for patients with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, macular holes and pucker, eye trauma, and many other conditions.
Eye problems that are diagnosed early are often very treatable, especially at an academic medical center, where ophthalmologists have access to the latest tools and techniques for any condition that arises, Dr. Del Priore says. “Ophthalmology sort of reinvents itself every five to 10 years,” he says. “The current trend is something I would call micro-miniaturization, where surgical instruments we use just keep getting smaller and smaller.” Since much of the discomfort people feel after eye surgery is related to the instrument size and surgical incisions, smaller instruments result in less pain and a quicker recovery, he says.
Dr. Del Priore, who is the Robert Young Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science at Yale School of Medicine, says one of his favorite memories is from early in his career when he assisted with surgery to treat a patient who had retinal detachments in both eyes. “The patient was from fairly far away—about four hours by car to the medical center,” Dr. Del Priore says. “He was led by the hand into the examination room because he could not see out of either eye. We operated on both eyes, but because he lived so far away, he didn’t come back until a few months after surgery. I still remember him coming into the room three months later. I introduced myself and the attending physician introduced himself, and the patient said, ‘I was wondering what you all looked like.’"
Since then, Dr. Del Priore has seen his field change with improvements in care that have led to better outcomes for more and more patients. “Yale has been at the forefront of many changes over the last 10 years, and has both pioneered and implemented a variety of new surgical techniques,” he says. For instance, Yale researchers’ efforts have led to the identification of genes for macular degeneration.
Because early intervention is important for cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye diseases, the challenge, in many cases, is getting people into the office for an early diagnosis, Dr. Del Priore says. This can be difficult considering many people either don’t have symptoms or don’t notice them, especially if the changes in their vision occur gradually. So the best strategy, Dr. Del Priore says, is to schedule a dilated eye exam once a year with an ophthalmologist, and, if anything unusual comes up in between, visit the eye doctor right away. “Eyesight is extremely important,” he says, adding that surveys show that when it comes to preserving health and function, most people rank loss of eyesight second only to life-threatening illness. “We only get one set of eyes,” he says.