Healthy Body, Healthy Eyes

More than 20 million Americans have trouble seeing, even with glasses, and that number is expected to more than double by the year 2050, says the National Eye Institute. Aging, poor diet, and lack of exercise are taking their toll on our eyesight, but there is hope in improving our vision of tomorrow.

Dr. Stuart Stoll, noted ophthalmologist and chairman of the nonprofit Center for the Partially Sighted, believes this disturbing trend can be slowed dramatically with early, proper diagnoses, better health habits, and counseling with trained professionals.

A Westlake Village resident, Dr. Stoll grew up in the Los Angeles area with elderly parents and saw firsthand how age and other factors affected health. When he enrolled at the University of Southern California, he focused on gerontology, intent upon becoming a physician.

While an undergraduate at USC, he learned about the Center for the Partially Sighted and studied under Dr. David Boyer, one of the top eye surgeons in the country. Inspired by his experiences at the Center, Dr. Stoll obtained his medical degree and later become Chief Resident in Ophthalmology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Wishing to specialize even further, he completed an additional year of fellowship training under Dr. Howard Gimbel, an internationally known authority in the field of cataract and refractive surgery.

In 2001, Dr. Stoll returned to California and began his practice in the Los Angeles area. As a highly regarded ophthalmic surgeon, he also has a passion for teaching and discovering innovative ways to train others.

One of the ways he gives back is through the Center for the Partially Sighted, where he had previously interned. Now serving his second term as Chairman of the Center’s Board of Directors, Dr. Stoll strives “to enhance the lives of those with vision impairment by allowing them to function more independently, remain productive, and even pursue their dreams.”

Treating some 2,400 individuals annually, many of whom have had eye surgeries and continue to experience sight loss, Dr. Stoll and the Center work to maximize the vision people still have to improve their lifestyles as much as possible through psychological assessment and therapy, help with physical navigation, evaluation and training with low-vision magnifying devices, and other services.

“The key to better vision is to take care of the body, which will take care of your eyes,” says Dr. Stoll. “High cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, and related conditions can be mitigated with proper diet, exercise, and regular checkups. Even wearing sunglasses can help.”

Dr. Stoll supports the nonprofit Center, sharing his expertise and guiding the organization, while acknowledging their work only reaches a limited number of people, just scratching the surface of the need.

“We’re at the perfect storm,” says Dr. Stoll. “The largest population segment—the Baby Boomers—are reaching the ages where more vision loss is likely. There is a surge in diabetes caused by poor food choices. People are not exercising as they should. Glaucoma is going unchecked. All of these factors contribute significantly to ocular health and must be addressed.”

While the low-vision population is growing exponentially, the economy has also made it more difficult to obtain funding to support the Center’s efforts. With five locations in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara areas, the Center is also needed in other communities, like the Conejo Valley.

“As a nonprofit, part of our job is to help streamline costs, while seeking contributions from many sources, including foundation and government grants, public and private donations, fundraisers, and other means,” Dr. Stoll notes. “We need more financial support in serving the ever-growing, low-vision population.”

When he’s not practicing medicine or strategizing with the Center, Dr. Stoll looks to build a better vision—literally. His passion for improving sight has led him to develop several patents that are already providing greatly enhanced surgical training methods. One device, the SimulEYE, presents some 12 models of the eye for ophthalmology residents to use in developing their surgical techniques and practicing skills.

Dr. Stoll’s busy schedule is eased somewhat when he retreats to his North Ranch home with his wife, Mendy, and 5-year-old son, Eli. He also enjoys skiing, mountain biking, traveling, and working on his sports car.

For additional information on eye care and treatment, volunteering, or to make a donation, visit the Center for the Partially Sighted at Low-Vision.org.