At the annual William Edward Gwinn Science lecture on Sept. 22, Chan shared his path toward becoming a world-renowned expert on Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and the importance of facing your fears, seeing obstacles as opportunities, and continually testing and adapting solutions.
Following a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery at Harvard Medical School, Chan moved to New York to join the faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he was unexpectedly thrust into providing ophthalmological care to an entire hospital of pediatric retina patients. At this point, he had no formal training in ROP and was well outside his comfort zone.
"When you're in a situation with obstacles in front of you, know what you don't know and face it. Don't turn away from the challenge. Embrace the opportunities in front of you," said Chan.
Chan dove headfirst into understanding ROP, traveling around the world to study the disease and developing ways to better identify and manage it – a particularly daunting challenge in remote areas with little infrastructure and technology. ROP has now been recognized as a global epidemic, and NGOs such as Orbis International and Helen Keller International are working closely with Chan to develop strategies to prevent children from going blind from ROP. Chan first started working with Orbis International in 2010, providing assessments and education for their partners. A unique aspect of Orbis is its Flying Eye Hospital, another method of reaching vulnerable populations, which boasts a classroom of 50 doctors who can watch live surgery being performed aboard the DC-10 aircraft.
Last year, Chan logged over 250,000 miles to help establish clinical, teaching and research collaborations, as well as increase access to ophthalmological care for children, in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. He and his team have developed systems using digital imaging, telemedicine and tele-education approaches to improve access to care.
"At the end of the day, you absolutely can make a difference," said Chan. "Work hard, listen to your mentors, be humble, and acknowledge your partners and your team."
Chan has committed much of his career to leading programs for preventing blindness in children. The initiatives being led by Chan and his team are improving access to care, providing effective training for doctors, and enabling follow up care to ensure healthy populations – all through a system that is sustainable, cost-effective, and portable.
Dr. R.V. Paul Chan '91, M.D., MSc, FACS, is a professor and vice chair of global ophthalmology at the University of Illinois-Chicago Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and the director of Pediatric Retina and Retinopathy of Prematurity Services at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. He received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and M.D. from the Temple University School of Medicine.
The William Edward Gwinn '86 Memorial Lecture was established by Byrd and Molly Gwinn in memory of their son, Will Gwinn '86, who achieved the highest academic honors at The Haverford School and died of leukemia in his junior year. The Gwinns established a prize and lectureship in his memory to bring a distinguished scientist each year to address Upper School students.