When Dallas ophthalmologists Albert Vaiser, MD, William B. Snyder, MD, and William L. Hutton, MD, began studying medicine over a half century ago, a diagnosis of macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or retinal detachment meant eventual blindness.
“Sadly, the patients were told to learn braille,” remembers Dr. Vaiser.
However, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the subspecialty of retina care emerged, and a revolution in eye care slowly took hold. The retina is a layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye and receives and processes light, sending this information to the brain. Charles L. Schepens, MD, founded the first retina practice in Boston. His work and teachings inspired other ophthalmologists to pursue this emerging field. Drs. Vaiser, Snyder and Hutton were three who heard the calling.
Albert Vaiser, MD, First to Bring Retina Care to Dallas
Dr. Vaiser studied vitreoretinal surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and upon completion of his fellowship in 1965, received an invitation from Dr. John Lynn to join the faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and serve as the region’s first retina specialist.
Excited about the opportunity to build something from the ground up, Dr. Vaiser accepted the call, and within weeks of his arrival in Dallas, began receiving referrals from throughout the state.
“Patients who previously had to travel to Boston or the West Coast for treatment could now get the eye care they needed without going far from home,” he remembers.
Because of the rapidly growing patient demand for his services and care, it wasn’t long before Dr. Vaiser decided to leave the world of academia and enter private practice.
Pioneers in Retina Care
The child of two physicians, William Snyder, MD, completed his training in retina at the University of Iowa and came to Dallas in 1966 to fill the position Dr. Vaiser had left on the faculty at UT Southwestern. The two soon met and became fast friends. Their pioneering spirits, passion for improving patient care and shared vision for advancing the field of vitreoretinal ophthalmology drew them together, and in 1968, Dr. Snyder decided to join Dr. Vaiser in private practice.
Then, just a few years later, they were joined by William Hutton, MD, who had just completed his fellowship in vitreous surgery at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
“Dr. Hutton’s training had placed him in the forefront of physicians who had mastered the newly emerging technique of vitrectomy, a sight-saving surgical treatment for retinal detachment,” remembers Dr. Snyder.
The three became lifelong partners and friends. Anxious to advance retina care for patients throughout North Texas, the trio officially established Texas Retina Associates in 1975. Over the next four decades, they carefully grew their practice to its now 13 offices throughout Texas with 16 retina-fellowship-trained physicians.
“Early on, we adopted the philosophy that we would bring on people smarter than we were,” quips Dr. Hutton. “We wanted the best and the brightest, and constantly expanded our scope by hiring physicians with training we didn’t have.”
Dr. Vaiser concurs. “We were always on the cutting edge and not afraid to try new things. Everybody made a unique contribution, and each physician had his or her own area of expertise. This allowed us to take care of all types of cases, and our patients could benefit from three or four opinions all in one visit.”
While each physician brought unique strengths, they all shared a common mission: to help save sight by bringing patients the newest and most proven techniques and treatments for management of diseases of the retina and vitreous. Over the years, this has included many innovations and “firsts” for Dallas and the surrounding areas:
- First to treat diabetic retinopathy
- First in Texas to perform virtrectomy to treat retinal detachment
- First to perform membrane peels – a procedure performed to treat a macular pucker, a condition that affects central vision by causing blurring and distortion
- Treatment of babies with retinal issues, including retinopathy of prematurity
- Development of new instrumentation and evaluation techniques
- Electrodiagnostics and ocular ultrasonography
“We established a culture early on of continually consulting, collaborating and questioning. We exchanged ideas and continued to push the limits of what we could accomplish for patients,” explained Dr. Vaiser.
Establishing Dallas as a Hub for Retina Research
By the 1970’s, Dr. Snyder and Dr. Vaiser realized that while they had significantly advanced surgical techniques in their field, there was still a need to better understand the root causes and progression of retina diseases as well as uncover new treatment options and diagnostic tools and equipment. As a result, they sought out the best medical scientists in the field at the time, and soon they were successful in recruiting David G. Birch, Ph.D., and his wife Eileen E. Birch, Ph.D., to Dallas to help establish the Retina Foundation of the Southwest (RFSW) in Dallas.
The RFSW is an independent, non-profit research institute that has grown into one of the leading independent vision research centers in the United States. Its researchers have made numerous groundbreaking discoveries over the past three decades, including that DHA in mother’s milk is necessary for infant eye and brain development. As a direct result, enhanced formula containing DHA is now sold worldwide.
Texas Retina Founders Retire, but Legacy Lives On
Dr. Hutton retired from Texas Retina Associates in 2000 and Dr. Snyder in 2013. This June will mark the end of an era as Dr. Vasier, the final founder will step down. Together, the three helped grow and sustain a practice for more than four decades.
“The legacy these three men have left and the example they lived out every day will remain a vital part of our practice as we move forward,” says CEO Jeff Brockette. “Their life-long partnership was a success story you don’t hear often enough in medicine or in any line of work for that matter.”
Always one to shy from the spotlight, Dr. Snyder shares his thoughts on what kept them together for so many years, “We weren’t lightning rods. We just did the work, and we never worried about who was doing more. We grew by doing the right thing. Putting patients first is the glue that has held us together.”
Dr. Hutton concurs. “We had respect for each other. My partners were smart, hard-working, fun, honest, loyal and trustworthy. Most importantly, we all three believed in doing the right thing. That was the way we ran the practice. One of us was always awake and thinking. All ideas were entertained, explored and executed, and everyone did their part. We held ourselves to the highest standards, offered patients treatment they couldn’t get elsewhere, and took on the most complicated cases in our quest to offer the best care possible and save vision.”
Dr. Vaiser compares the trio’s lifelong partnership and Texas Retina Associates’ longevity to a marriage. “At the end of the day, it is built on trust,” he says. “And that carries through in every single thing we do right down to our relationships with our patients.”
On the Horizon
In early 2013, the groundwork laid by the three founders reached a new milestone when Texas Retina Associates and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest opened new Dallas offices under the same roof. The goal is to further collaboration between these two organizations and ultimately, provide retina patients with more immediate, expanded and direct access to breakthrough treatments and clinical trials.
“While we have evolved and achieved a lot in the past 40 years, there is still much work to be done,” says Dr. Snyder.
Dr. Hutton agrees. “Our story is not ending,” he shares. “From genetically targeted treatments to new pharmacology, there is so much on the horizon.”
And Dr. Vasier who officially retires on June 30, 2014, is confident that the practice he and his partners founded more than four decades ago is in good hands. “Every physician at Texas Retina Associates believes in delivering exceptional care and service to this community,” he reflects. “I have no doubt they will continue to innovate and lead. I am honored to have been a part of this amazing team.”