New and expanded USF Health Eye Institute hosts grand opening

The 27,000-square-foot facility, on the Morsani Center’s fourth floor, offers the full spectrum of routine and complex vision care

With the snip of a green ribbon, the grand opening of new and expanded USF Health Eye Institute was celebrated Aug. 16 by the university’s academic medical center leaders and Department of Ophthalmology faculty, staff, residents and alumni.

Occupying 27,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the USF Health Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare, the institute is the single largest clinical space for any one specialty program at USF Health – with all ophthalmology subspecialties under one roof.  Even more impressive than its size is the institute’s advanced technology and comprehensive expertise to improve treatment for complex eye diseases, trauma and other ophthalmic conditions, as well as to conduct the latest clinical research.

For the first time, the institute will also offer routine vision examinations, fittings and purchases of glasses and contact lenses.  Reconstructive and cosmetic surgery around the eye is also available.

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Charles Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and Ramesh Ayyala, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, prepare to cut the ribbon marking the grand opening of the spacious, new USF Health Eye Institute.

“Superior patient care, innovative research and excellent resident education—these are the three pillars on which we will continue to build the USF Health Eye Institute,” Ramesh Ayyala, MD, chair of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, said before the event.

Dr. Ayyala joined USF Health in April from Tulane University, where he established one of the largest practices in the South for treating complex cases of glaucoma and corneal diseases. He also rebuilt Tulane’s ophthalmology residency program following Hurricane Katrina.

The energetic chair wasted no time putting into motion the logistics needed to relocate the institute to its new, more spacious quarters in the Morsani Center in July. The previous building on Magnolia Drive was recently purchased by Moffitt Cancer Center, which will determine its use.

Dr. Lockwood welcomes guests.

Committed to excellence in patient care, research and residency education

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, welcomed guests who packed the institute’s lobby and thanked Dr. Ayyala and his team for their commitment to making the impressive state-of-the-art space a reality.  He recognized the generosity of Dr. James “Jim” Gills, founder of St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute, who along with his wife Heather endowed the James & Heather Gills Chair in Ophthalmology now held by Dr. Ayyala.

Harry van Loveren, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, led USF Health’s search to recruit a new chair for the Department of Ophthalmology.

Speakers at the event included Peter Neland, MD, PhD (left), chair of the University of Virginia Department of Ophthalmology who mentored Dr. Ayyala, speaks with Harry van Loveren, MD, chair of the USF Health Department of Neurosurgery.

“We searched nationwide only to find the best candidate in the country graduated from our own (ophthalmology residency) program in 1999,” Dr. van Loveren said of Dr. Ayyala. “We were searching for someone who could articulate a strategy for expanding our footprint in the Tampa Bay region. We found someone who had a strategy to make USF Health a destination for eye care throughout the state of Florida.”

Peter Neland, MD, PhD, a mentor to Dr. Ayyala, spoke about the trends in increasing outpatient visits and the projected growth in eye disease and vision problems. An escalating U.S. aging population, including high-risk groups like Hispanics (more likely to develop glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy), will drive more demand for ophthalmic procedures and a need for more highly trained ophthalmologists, said Dr. Neland, chair of the University of Virginia’s Department of Ophthalmology.

The lobby was decorated in USF green and gold for the celebration.

“There is no doubt that this (outpatient) institute is well positioned to strengthen patient care and train the next generation ophthalmologists” needed to treat glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other eye disorders, he said. “It will also help identify transformative new treatments and improve our understanding of eye diseases so we can make vision care better.”

“A very exciting time to be here”

Following the speaker remarks and ribbon cutting, the USF Health Eye Institute’s staff and ophthalmology residents led tours of the new facility.

Among the stops was a state-of-the-art simulation laser microsurgery suite and operating room, where residents receive one-on-one training.  They can hone their skills by performing intricate surgeries such as corneal transplants, cataract removal and retinal tear repair before treating human patients. In addition to its 46 lanes for patient examinations, the facility includes, to name just a few, rooms for visual field testing and for high-definition ocular ultrasound, which generates detailed images of the eye to help diagnose disorders and monitor disease progression.

Guests toured the new facility, which is fully equipped with the latest ophthalmic equipment and technologies to provide everything from routine eye care to diagnosis and treatment of complex eye conditions. Coming soon — a full-service optical shop.

Ophthalmology resident Christopher Donovan said that access to dedicated experts in visual electrophysiology and ocular pathology helps set the USF Health Eye Institute apart as a training site for residents.

“It’s a very exciting time to be here,” said Dr. Donovan, who led one of the tour groups. “There’s an influx of new faculty and staff and we’ll be starting some new fellowship programs… Having all this latest technology is great in terms of improving diagnosis and patient care.”

Built on a strong foundation, dream becomes a reality

During the grand opening, Dr. Ayyala thanked past Department of Ophthalmology chairs for building a strong foundation for the department. “What we are doing here today is an extension of their dreams,” he said.

Peter Pavan, MD (left), immediate past chair of the USF Health Department of Ophthalmology and still an active professor in the department, was a mentor to Dr. Ayyala when Dr. Ayyala conducted his residence here.

Among those attending the event were Vivian Oduwo and her 2-year-old son Beau Ananga. Beau was born with aniridia, the absence of an iris, a condition that made him unable to see.  Beau’s family previously traveled from Wesley Chapel to Miami for treatment, at one point weekly – but now Beau can get the treatment he needs at the expanded USF Health facility.  In late July, Dr. Ayyala performed surgery to drain the fluid from Beau’s eyes, returning their pressure to near-normal levels.

“Since coming to USF and seeing Dr. Ayyala, we have seen a significant improvement in the appearance of my son’s eyes. His eyes are much clearer and a normal size, and we’re hopeful this will make a significant improvement in his vision,” said Oduwo, adding that Beau loves spending time outdoors running and playing.

Among the grand opening attendees were Vivian Oduwo and her 2-year-old son Beau Ananga.  Dr. Ayyala operated on Beau in late July to relieve pressure in his eyes caused by congenital aniridia, an absense of the iris.

“As a mother this means my son will be able to enjoy some of the things other kids enjoy, even if not at the same level. Our family loves Dr. Ayyala because he not only gives expert advice about managing our son’s medical condition, but also advises us on how to raise a child with visual impairment. He has encouraged us to raise our son like a normal child and not focus on his disability.”

-Tina Meketa, USF Communications and Marketing contributed to this story.  Photos by Eric Younghans and Torie Doll, USF Health Communications and Marketing