The Eyes Have It

Eye institute builds staff, presence in Tampa Bay area

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Priya M. Mathews, MD, MPH

Maryland native Priya M. Mathews, MD, MPH, attended college at the University of Maryland, where she graduated as valedictorian with dual degrees. Dr. Mathews earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. Both degrees served her well on her chosen career path.

“I went to medical school at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore,” Dr. Mathews relates. “I wasn’t sure initially what I wanted to do. I like children, so I thought I might enter pediatrics. But when I started doing procedures and surgeries during my rotations, I realized I love surgery, especially when using microscopes to perform detail tasks.

“Around the same time, I became interested in public health, and I took a few mission trips abroad. I went to Haiti and Bolivia, and those experiences influenced me to pursue public health as well as medicine.”

Toward that goal, Dr. Mathews applied to a unique educational program available to Johns Hopkins’ students. As part of the program, a small number of students are chosen to take a year off from their medical training to earn a Master’s in Public Health degree. Dr. Mathews was among the students selected.

“After my first three years of medical school, I took a year and earned my MPH at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins,” Dr. Mathews elaborates. “I took courses in epidemiology and biostatistics, and also spent a month in India working on a water sanitation project in Mumbai. That was an incredible experience.

“I started working on research projects with ophthalmology faculty at Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, specifically with the Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology. This world renowned organization focuses specifically on public health ophthalmology.

“I realized that ophthalmology brought together everything I love: taking care of patients long-term, performing meticulous surgery that requires fine motor skills and still making a global impact through public health projects aimed at fighting blindness.”

Upon graduating from Johns Hopkins and completing a preliminary internal medicine program, Dr. Mathews was accepted into an ophthalmology residency at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. She was still working on research projects with her mentors at Johns Hopkins as well.

“At that point, I was thinking of becoming a cornea specialist,” she shares. “I was drawn to cornea transplant surgery, which has a strong public health component to it. Only one in seventy people who need a cornea transplant actually gets one. Cornea surgery really called me.”

To pursue her passion, Dr. Mathews returned to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and its Wilmer Eye Institute. There, she completed a fellowship in cornea and external diseases. After finishing her fellowship, she was prepared to put her accumulated knowledge into action.

In early September, Dr. Mathews joined the ophthalmology staff at Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute. She provides specialty eye care at the Institute’s sites in Brandon and Riverview, as well as the new South Tampa location.

Precise Procedure

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Dr. Mathews recently joined the staff at
Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute

At Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute, Dr. Mathews performs the full range of corrective eye procedures, including cornea surgery, refractive surgery (including LASIK®) and cataract surgery. Her primary interest is the treatment of conditions affecting the cornea.

“There are certain surgeries I learned over the past few years that aren’t widely available in the Tampa area,” Dr. Mathews notes. “One of those techniques is DMEK, which is an acronym for Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty. DMEK is a newer, more advanced type of cornea transplant that ultimately results in better vision for patients with endothelial disease.”

The cornea is made up of five layers. During a traditional cornea transplant, the entire cornea is removed and replaced with donor tissue. With the newer surgical techniques, including DMEK, surgeons can select the diseased layer of the cornea and replace only that layer.

During DMEK, the surgeon removes and replaces a very thin layer of the cornea. In this case, it’s two layers, the Descemet membrane, the basement membrane that lies deep in the cornea, and the endothelium.

“Techniques such as DMEK, which transplant only a portion of the cornea, provide patients with much better vision than can be achieved by replacing the entire cornea,” Dr. Mathews asserts. “And because the patient is keeping most of their own cornea and only receiving a small piece of donor tissue, there’s less chance for rejection.”

Dr. Mathews also performs keratoprosthesis surgery, or replacing the whole cornea with an artificial cornea. This may be an option for patients who are not suitable candidates for fresh tissue transplant.

“Cornea transplants are the most frequently performed transplants in the world, so advances such as DMEK and artificial corneas are really exciting,” she relates.

Laser Assistance

Another surgery commonly performed by cornea specialists is LASIK laser vision correction. LASIK, an acronym for laser-assisted in
situ keratomileusis
, is the most commonly performed laser eye surgery to treat vision problems such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism.

“The bending and focusing of light onto the retina is called refraction,” Dr. Mathews describes. “If the shape of the cornea is not perfect, the light on the retina is distorted, causing refractive errors such as nearsightedness and farsightedness.

“During refractive surgery, the surgeon reshapes the cornea using specialized lasers. Reshaping the cornea enables light entering the eye to be properly focused onto the retina, correcting the refractive errors. With the errors corrected, clearer vision results.”

LASIK surgery involves first creating a superficial, hinged flap on the surface of the cornea using a femtosecond laser. Once that is done, the surgeon peels back the flap to access the underlying corneal tissue, the stroma. The surgeon then removes some of the corneal tissue to reshape it using a second, programmed laser called an excimer laser.

“After the surgeon reshapes the cornea with the excimer laser, they place the flap back into place to cover the area where tissue was removed,” Dr. Mathews explains. “Eventually, the flap heals and seals onto the underlying cornea.”

LASIK surgery is relatively painless and performed using anesthetic eye drops. Surgeons may also give patients a medication to help them relax during the procedure. Surgery is generally completed in less than 20 minutes. If both eyes need correction, doctors will typically operate on both eyes the same day.

There are other vision correction procedures available to patients who aren’t good candidates for LASIK or who prefer another option. These procedures include PRK, phakic intraocular lenses and refractive lens exchange.

“PRK, or photorefractive keratectomy, is a type of refractive surgery and the predecessor to LASIK,” Dr. Mathews notes. “With PRK, no flap is created. Instead, the thin outer layer of the cornea, the epithelium, is removed before the excimer laser is used.”

Phakic intraocular lenses (IOLs) are often used with patients who have a high degree of refractive error that cannot be safely corrected using a cornea-based refractive surgery. These IOLs, sometimes referred to as implantable contact lenses, are surgically implanted inside the eye in front of the patient’s natural lens, which is not removed. This process allows patients to retain their focusing ability.

“With a refractive lens exchange, or RLE, an artificial lens is inserted during a procedure similar to cataract surgery,” Dr. Mathews offers. “This technique replaces the patient’s natural lens, improving vision. An RLE may be a good option for patients with severe farsightedness who are not candidates for LASIK surgery.”

Pioneering Expansion

In September, Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute opened a new location in South Tampa. A full range of eye treatments and surgeries is available at the new location. The practice in South Tampa further reinforces Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute’s commitment to serve the greater Tampa Bay community.

The new center is located at 3115 South Swann Avenue in Tampa. Dr. Mathews provides general ophthalmology and cornea care at the new location. Also serving patients at the practice are ophthalmologists Robert J. Applebaum, MD, who is also an oculofacial plastic and reconstructive surgeon; Deen G. King, MD, a glaucoma and cataract specialist; Dilip Rathinasamy, MD, a cataract specialist; and Selina J. Lin, MD, a vitreoretinal surgeon.

“It’s very exciting that Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute is making its presence felt in the South Tampa area,”
Dr. Mathews relates. “It’s a pioneering move for them to extend into South Tampa, and they have a plan for growing that practice. I’m pleased and proud to be a part of that plan.”

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