O.D. Scene: Optometric Retinal Society Leaders


O.D. Scene


O.D. Scene creator, writer and editor Jack Schaeffer, O.D.

Retinal diseases are on the rise. In fact, roughly 2 million individuals in the United States, or 6% of the U.S. population, have AMD, and this number is estimated to reach 3.5 million by 2030, according to the National Eye Institute. While 2030 sounds like it’s light years away, it will actually be here in 16 years. The good news: The Optometric Retina Society (ORS), founded in 2003, is available to help you care for both current and future retinal disease patients — something that will soon be mandatory for the success of one’s practice, given these statistics.

The ORS’ mission is to “promote the advancement of vitreoretinal knowledge for clinicians, ophthalmic educators, residents and students. The ORS is dedicated to posterior segment disease prevention, diagnosis, management and co-management.”

So, who are the folks who oversee this important society? That is precisely what this month’s “OD Scene” covers. Specifically, I speak with Joe Pizzimenti, O.D, F.A.A.O., ORS fellow and president, Leo Semes, O.D., F.A.A.O., founding fellow, Dianna Shechtman, O.D., F.A.A.O., ORS founding fellow and chair, and Jerry Sherman, O.D., F.A.A.O., founding fellow and Chair. Next month, I talk with the ORS’ diabetes experts.

Optometry’s scope of practice has grown so much through the last decade (and rightly so), and our expertise in helping our retinal disease patients is at the forefront of this growth. Enjoy “meeting” the leaders of ORS.

Key Opinion Leaders Weigh in…

Joe Pizzimenti, O.D, F.A.A.O., ORS fellow and president, Leo Semes, O.D., F.A.A.O., ORS founding fellow, Dianna Shechtman, O.D., F.A.A.O., ORS founding fellow and chair and Jerry Sherman, O.D., F.A.A.O., ORS founding fellow and chair.

Q: Why did you decide to become an optometrist?

JP: My mom’s optometrist, Salvatore Shakir, of Brooklyn, N.Y., diagnosed her glaucoma when I was a college sophomore. [So], I immediately became interested in the eye and visual system. Also, Dr. Shakir seemed to enjoy his patients and the broad scope of optometry.

LS: My early years were spent in a household that included a great uncle who was blind, secondary to unsuccessful cataract surgery. Later my first optometrist, Dr. Louis Markowitz, encouraged me to consider the profession. Following a short, but unsatisfying, stint as a chemist, I entered optometry school.

DS: I saw that the field of optometry had a number of advantages: decent hours, you weren’t typically on call, you had the ability to help people, decent pay and job security. Today, I see the profession as the best health career there is: It includes the things I mentioned, in addition to fascinating research and educational opportunities.

Dr. Semes on Smith Lake in Crane Hill, Ala.

JS: [I had a] long-term interest in science, math and medicine. My older brother, Dr. Arnie Sherman, is an optometrist who was five years ahead of me and influenced me to a great extent. He does vision training and sports vision.

Q: Can you describe your practice?

JP: The Eye Care Institute is the clinical arm of Nova Southeastern University’s College of Optometry. I enjoy seeing patients with my students, residents and colleagues. It sure beats working for a living!

LS: I see private patients, as well as patients with interns in a clinical setting, as I’m a professor of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Optometry.

DS: I, too, work at the Eye Care Institute at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry. I oversee students and residents alike, while providing eye care to my patients who have various visual needs and ocular conditions.

JS: I have been at SUNY Optometry for 44 consecutive years, and I’m presently a distinguished teaching professor. The clinic always has many fascinating patients for patient care, clinical teaching, clinical research and for publications. Also, I’m in private practice at the Eye Institute & Laser Center in New York, N.Y.

Q: Who has shaped your optometric career the most?

JP: My wife, Claire Pizzimenti, O.D., encouraged me to make the transition from private practice to full-time optometric education in 1995. Also, I’ve been fortunate to have several O.D. mentors: My dean, David Loshin, Bill Jones, Dan Roberts, Anastas Pass, Sue Cotter, Derrald Taylor, Randy Jose and Nick Holdeman. It took a village!

LS: I have to give credit to several optometrists: Joseph Toland, Louis Catania and John Amos.

Dr. Pizzimenti and wife in the Italian region of Tuscany.

DS: I am lucky to have had and continue to have a number of mentors and role models. These individuals are political leaders, members of advisory boards, nationally recognized lecturers, professors and thought leaders whose continuous dedication to their patients and the profession is admirable and inspiring.

JS: My brother, Arnie, a great educator and dedicated clinician, and the late John Carter, O.D., Ph.D., who taught Physiological Optics at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (now Salus University) and later at the Michigan College of Optometry. He was, perhaps, the smartest optometrist I ever knew.

The Shechtmans on a date night in Miami, Fla.

Q: Why should an O.D. consider ORS membership?

JP: For the chance to meet Jerry Sherman, of course! Kidding. I enjoy the open exchange of ideas, opportunities to collaborate and the wonderful camaraderie.

LS: To try and encourage them to diminish their fear of the retina.

DS: Within the ORS, one can freely share ideas, continue in the path of learning and teach others about retinal diseases.

JS: It’s an ideal environment to establish personal and professional relationships with other O.D.s who are often experts in retinal disease.

Q: Why are you so involved with the ORS?

JP: I’m passionate about optometrists making a difference in the prevention, early diagnosis and management/co-management of vitreoretinal disease. What an opportunity!

LS: I was invited to be a founding member of the Optometric Glaucoma Society (OGS) and saw that as an excellent vehicle for educating other O.D.s in glaucoma and felt that the ORS would offer a similar opportunity to serve the profession.

DS: ORS provides a platform for O.D.s who share a similar interest to interact, discuss and disseminate information and resources. Education and knowledge enhances our ability to serve our patients, community and profession.

Dr. Shechtman with son, Kyle.

JS: I agree with the Mission Statement of the ORS, I attempt to meet it and try to provide optimal care. Also, I teach to elevate optometry, so optometrists, nationwide, can help patients. I have developed friendships with many who, without ORS, I would not have known nearly as well.

Q: What is the most interesting retina case you’ve had?

Dr. Sherman giving himself an exam, courtesy of one of his students.

JP: Recently, I saw a jazz piano player in his 20s with profound RP. He regained some visual function with a retinal prosthesis. It’s amazing how far research has come and how much further we still need to go.

LS: Several years ago, I saw a glaucoma patient who was monocular due to congenital staphyloma in one eye. The other eye appeared normal. We decided to take him off topical IOP-lowering drops, and for the first few bi-weekly visits IOP was normal. When the pressure spiked after about six weeks off medications, we performed a gonioscopy to discover anterior-chamber angle abnormalities in the staphyloma eye.

DS: I diagnosed an early subtle case of Stargardt’s disease in a very young child. Yet, it wasn’t the diagnosis that seemed intriguing to the child’s parents, it was the realization and appreciation for the true ART of optometry. They were impressed by the education, answers and resources I provided on the condition.

JS: Recently, two sisters presented at ages 4 and 5, respectively, without symptoms and normal VA but with a profound, hyperreflective ELM with SD-OCT. Based upon family history and genetic testing, this sign is now a newly discovered biomarker for very early Stargardt’s macula degeneration. The good news: A new treatment with a variant of Vitamin A will be available this calendar year for an FDA-approved clinical trial. With some luck, these two adorable little girls will never develop the disorder that has devastated their 8 year-old brother.

The Pizzimenti family skiing in New England.

Q: Are retina specialists more receptive to a co-management relationship than they were in the past?

JP: I have been practicing for 25 years. Retinologists are increasingly realizing that we [O.D.s] are seeing scores of patients who may ultimately benefit from medical or surgical retinal care. Many of today’s retina specialists are not only receptive, but actually seek opportunities to co-manage. The progressive O.D.s and retina specialists understand that this is a two-way street. We can’t go wrong if we always put the patient first.

LS: I have been fortunate enough to have very cooperative co-management relationships.

DS: I think they are. If we as O.D.s are educated in regards to retinal disease, we tend to make more appropriate referrals.

JS: Yes.

Q: If you could have dinner with anyone, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

JP: Leonardo da Vinci. He was a painter, sculptor, anatomist, architect, geologist, musician, engineer, mathematician, cartographer, botanist, writer and inventor. He conceptualized the contact lens. Talk about a Renaissance man!

LS: Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the Porsche car company, because of his perspective on committees: “Committees are, by nature, timid. They are based on the premise of safety in numbers; content to survive inconspicuously, rather than take risks and move independently ahead. Without independence, without the freedom for new ideas to be tried, to fail and to ultimately succeed, the world will not move ahead, but live in fear of its own potential.”

DS: Steve Jobs. I find him to be an intriguing, inspirational individual who always had the courage to follow his heart and think outside the box. He may not have been charismatic, and many thought him to be a difficult man, but he was a visionary.

Dr. Semes with wife, Page, hiking.

JS: My joke-telling father, who I miss very much.

Dr. Sherman doing laps in his 84° pool during the winter.

Q: Who are the members of your family, and what do you like to do for fun?

JP: I’ve been tremendously blessed to be married for 23-plus years to Claire. We met at an American Optometric Student Association conference. We have a 19 year-old daughter, Angela, and two sons, Drew, age 15, and Anthony, age 12. For fun, I enjoy travel, family vacations skiing and sight-seeing, listening to music — most genres, from Blues to Bocelli, watching my sons play basketball and reading.

LS: I have two daughters, from a previous marriage. One is married with a 6-month old daughter. Also, I have a son, who is a junior at the University of Alabama. My brother’s family lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and four musically talented daughters. For fun, I enjoy running, bicycling and golf with my wife, Page. I also like photography and art history.

DS: My husband, Leon, who has been the rock in my life, Ashley, my 11 year-old daughter, who is full of energy and curiosity and Kyle my 13 year-old son, who is athletic and determined. For fun, I enjoy traveling with my family, working with my students on patient care, running, biking, cross fit and variable workout routines.

JS: My still-beautiful wife, Karen, the love of my life, who teaches at Columbia University and is a nurse practitioner and family therapist, a son Mark, age 27, who is experimenting with different careers, and a son, Keith, age 21, who excels in music. For fun, I swim daily in all weather conditions, except during electrical storms. I have a pool heated to 84°. Also, I love architecture.

Q: What is your favorite movie, book, band and adult beverage?

JP: Movie: Rocky. (I was an extra in one of the scenes.) Book: Blue Blood (Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition, 2005); Band: Steely Dan and The Beatles; Adult beverage? Whatever Dufek (Miami’s greatest O.D.) is drinking.

LS: Movie: The Godfather; Book: A Man in Full (Dial Press Trade Paperback; 2001); Band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band; Adult beverage: Napa Cab wine.

DS: Movie: Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Book: I really don’t have one. Seeing I have such limited time, when I read, I read primarily eyecare journals and studies; Band: I have a very eclectic music taste and have too many favorite bands. Yet, I do enjoy Latin music; Adult beverage: gin and tonic.

JS: Movie: Sophie’s Choice; Book: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Picador; Reprint edition, 2008); Band: The Beatles; Adult beverage: bloody mary with white horseradish — need my Vitamin C!