Intravitreal injections at Arkansas Retina have revolutionized treatments saving eyesight
It has been said that the eyes are the window to your soul. They are definitely a window to your health, said Stephen J. Davis, MD, an ophthalmologist who is a retina specialist at Arkansas Retina based in Little Rock.
"With the eye, we can see systemic medical problems directly," Davis said. "I have been the first person to diagnose patients with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and metastatic cancer. I have diagnosed syphilis a few times and even tuberculosis."
He can also usually tell what type of vision problem patients have without them describing their symptoms. He can see it in their eyes.
"Eyes are very predictable," Davis said. "I love seeing the pathology directly in the eye and fixing it with surgery, injections in the eye or laser procedures. In the clinic, 90 percent of my treatments involve intravitreal injections. Twenty years ago, lasers were all we had. Today, we can do so much more."
Davis said anti-VEGF injections used to treat advanced wet age-related macular degeneration have revolutionized treatment and saved many people's vision. The injections can stop vision loss in 90 percent of patients, and improve vision in half of the patients, if caught in time.
Patients often need very frequent treatments, some even coming every month, which is one reason why Davis has satellite offices in Conway and Fort Smith, and also travels to Arkadelphia and Searcy to see patients at doctor's offices there.
"There are not that many of us, less than 20 in the state," he said. "It is a small field, so it is the nature of the job to travel to other offices. There is not a need for a full-time retina specialist in some of those communities, but there are many patients who need frequent treatment there. So, we go to them."
Obviously, it can be very difficult when patients are losing their eyesight and there is little to be done. In cases like a detached retina, emergency surgery can restore someone's eyesight leaving patients very grateful.
"In ophthalmology, there are some patients who will come in after a procedure and hug you," he said. "They are smiling and so happy because we either saved or restored their vision. One of the reasons I wanted to do medicine was so I could help people. That is one reason I love ophthalmology. I can see a problem and fix it. But some conditions are more complicated or untreatable. They don't always get their sight back."
Dry macular degeneration is one of the most difficult conditions to treat. It is a slow, degenerative process. Doctors can only prescribe AREDS over-the-counter vitamins that can slow the progression of the disease. There is no current treatment that halts or reverses it.
"This is one of the times where vitamins do make a difference," Davis said. "It doesn't stop it, but it buys us some time. It is a frustrating disease."
His success rate is much better at preserving vision compared to getting it back. That is why he advises anyone with vision changes immediately see a doctor. Don't wait to see if it will get better.
"You don't blow off vision loss when you are older," Davis said. "It may not be anything serious. But, if you are wrong, then you are in trouble. A lot of what I do is related to aging, high blood pressure and diabetes. Primary care doctors can help by asking patients if they have had any changes in their vision and by telling patients to immediately seek medical attention if there is any change in vision."
Although not common, detached retinas are one of few surgical emergencies faced by retina specialists. Davis said many people think retinal detachments are a result of trauma, but usually it is just a result of aging.
"They are an emergency because the quicker you get them repaired, the less vision loss people will suffer," Davis said. "There are a number of other problems that occur inside the eye related to aging or diabetes that require retinal surgery. Diabetes can cause vitreous hemorrhages or retinal detachments from scar tissue. We repair macular holes or epi-retinal membranes from aging. Then there are complications from other ocular surgery or procedures such as endophthalmitis, which is an infection of the eye itself."
Davis grew up in Conway and, as a kid, liked to take things apart, see how they worked and put them back together. In junior high, he decided he wanted to do something health-related. While in college, he had a job working for an optometrist and fell in love with the eye. While he really liked optometry, a mentor recommended he go to medical school and keep his options open. A job working for a retina specialist sealed his decision.
His undergraduate degree was a BS in biology from the University of Central Arkansas. He completed medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences where he was elected into the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society. He completed his residency in ophthalmology at the University of Arkansas's Jones Eye Institute, and completed fellowship training in vitreoretinal surgery at Oregon Health and Science University's Casey Eye Institute. He joined Arkansas Retina in 2013.
During his training, Davis received numerous awards for teaching and research. His work has been published in many professional journals, including Retina. He has presented at many local, regional and national meetings.
Davis and his wife, Gretchen, have four children ranging in age from four to 12.
"One of the things we love to do is go to state parks and we try to visit one or two national parks a year," Davis said. "My leisure time is with my family going to their sporting events or playing outside. My hobbies and my life surround my family right now."
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