Ophthalmologist Opens Eyes by Training Others

Gregg Feinerman, MD, works with an elite group of Lasik surgeons, is a member of the scientific advisory board for Bausch + Lomb and talked a drug company into donating $100,000 in supplies to teach local physicians in less fortunate countries.

When Gregg Feinerman, MD, FACS, was in medical school at the University of California, Irvine, he found himself faced with making a decision about where he wanted to focus his medical career. At the time he was doing a primary care elective with a physician who was performing colonoscopies, and so Feinerman accompanied the physician to ambulatory surgery centers.

“But after seeing one or two colonoscopies, I was pretty bored,” Feinerman recalls.

So he took a walk — a walk that led him to ophthalmology, where he watched cataract surgeries being performed.

“I thought that was really cool,” he says. “It was very high tech and interesting to me. And what really still appeals to me about the whole field is you can do surgery, but you also have the ability to see patients in clinic. So you aren’t just doing surgery as a surgeon, you are also a human being seeing and interacting with people.”

And that’s the platform upon which Feinerman has built his entire career.

A clear focus

After Feinerman completed his ophthalmology training at UC Irvine, he went on to complete a refractive surgery fellowship at the Gimbel Eye Center. There he trained in advanced ocular surgical techniques — including Lasik, Intacs corneal ring segments, phakic intraocular lenses, refractive lensectomy and cataract surgery. He founded the Feinerman Vision Center shortly thereafter and continues working with an elite group of Lasik surgeons investigating surgical techniques.

“We’re trying to accomplish a cure for the near vision problem,” Feinerman explains. “And so we’re trying to come up with various techniques to do that, either with implants or with lasers.”

As a member of the scientific advisory board for Bausch & Lomb, Feinerman is also actively involved in conducting FDA studies on presbyopic lenses.

“We just got FDA approval last week on the new Crystal lens, it’s called Trulign, that’s a lens that Bausch + Lomb has made to help with presbyopia, or near vision,” Feinerman says. “The big thing about it is that it also treats astigmatism at the same time. And this lens had one of the best results of any lens that was ever produced in an FDA study.”

Giving back

Six years ago Feinerman started a nonprofit organization called Operation Insight aimed at helping those in need of eye surgery. He has since performed more than two dozen free surgeries and, recently, performed cataract surgery on a 22-year-old who suffered from Wolfram Syndrome, a rare disease. He also performed free Lasik surgery on a 28-year-old injured war veteran on Memorial Day.

“He (the war veteran) had been blown up in a jeep while in Iraq,” Feinerman says. “Knowing he has multiple medical bills and just being able to say that we’re going to do this for free, the gratitude you get from that is so amazing.”

Feinerman says he started Operation Insight as a way to give back to the community, recalling that as a resident, there were many ways to give back to people who could not afford eye care.

“It’s a really good feeling to use your craft with other people,” he explains. “And I was fortunate enough to have my own practice and have some control over things like that. What better way for me to give back than by using my craft?”

Training others

Feinerman believes that it’s essential to teach his craft to his peers, especially in foreign countries, so that they can perform surgeries more efficiently, in greater volume, and with higher quality. He has already made four trips abroad — two to Vietnam, and one each to the Dominican Republic and Cambodia — to teach surgeons in less fortunate countries the latest technologies, along with providing pro bono surgeries for those in need.

“The thing about Vietnam and Cambodia that we did was we taught the surgeons there how to do the surgery,” Feinerman says. “When we went to Vietnam and Cambodia we brought at least a year’s supply of equipment for them. And so after I left they were able to do the surgery because we were teaching them at the same time. So, it wasn’t like we went there and fished for them, we actually taught them how to fish.”

In Cambodia, Feinerman and his colleagues decided that if they were going to teach local physicians, then they were going to learn the latest techniques. That also meant providing them with ample supplies.

“We basically talked to the drug companies, and in our own minds, pretended that we were starting our own surgery center from scratch,” he says. “We figured out what we needed and got the drug companies to donate everything. They gave us over $100,000 worth of supplies. That was from Alcon, which is a big drug company. You have to give them kudos for that … they were very generous.”

Very rewarding

Feinerman looks back on the work he has done and recalls one patient in particular — a 92-year-old farmer in rural Vietnam. The farmer had cataracts so dense that he could barely distinguish day from night. Feinerman changed that.

“Taking care of this farmer who couldn’t feed himself because he couldn’t see, and the next day he’s 20/20 — the hugs and the praise are just amazing,” he recalls. “It’s a different kind of reward.”

And it makes Feinerman grateful that he took that walk in medical school years ago.

“It was the right decision. I don’t think I would have enjoyed doing that for the rest of my life” he says. “And also, I feel really lucky to be able to do a craft that’s so intricate, and be good at it. Because there are other eye surgeons in the world who do cataract surgery, and it’s just not that easy for them. I don’t know why, but I was very blessed, and I feel lucky that it was easy for me. I chose the right field for myself.”