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Samuel & Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center Opens

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of UHealth — The University of Miami Health System, has opened the Samuel & Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center, the world’s first integrated services center dedicated to helping infants and children with glaucoma, a blinding condition associated with high pressure within the eye that damages the optic nerve that carries signals from the eye to the brain.

“Glaucoma is often overlooked in children because it is perceived as a condition that only affects the elderly,” said the center’s founder and director, Alana L. Grajewski, M.D. A professor of clinical ophthalmology, Grajewski specializes in treating and studying this rare, blinding disorder. “Unlike adult glaucoma, blindness from pediatric glaucoma can oftentimes be prevented with prompt diagnosis and surgical treatment.”

In the United States, approximately one in 25,000 babies is born with congenital pediatric glaucoma. In addition, about 1 in 5,000 children will develop the blinding condition. “It is a rare disease, but very treatable when caught at an early stage,” said Grajewski. “With prompt surgical treatment about 80 to 90 percent of children with primary congenital glaucoma can have near normal vision.”

Located within Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s flagship eye hospital in Miami, the Balkan Center was made possible by a generous gift from Donna May Balkan Litowitz, with her husband Bob, in honor of her parents, Samuel and Ethel Balkan. “This Center has been a dream-team effort,” said Donna Litowitz. “We are very fortunate to have Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in our community. It’s been a pleasure watching this great Institute grow throughout the years.”

The Balkan Center’s clinical team comprises specialists internationally known for providing outstanding, comprehensive care for children with glaucoma. Alongside Grajewski, a pioneer in the field of childhood glaucoma, the faculty includes Elizabeth A. Hodapp, M.D., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology, and Peter Chang, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist and assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology.

Young patients at the Balkan Center will have access to the most advanced specialists, leading-edge diagnostic technology and surgical treatments, and genetic screening with the center’s ocular geneticist, Mustafa Tekin, M.D., through a partnership with the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

In addition to direct patient care, the center established Global Eye SITE, an observership program dedicated to the training of skilled surgeons from underserved countries. The groundbreaking program’s curriculum will include the workup and management of childhood glaucoma, ocular syndromes and ocular genetics.

The inaugural participant in the Global Eye SITE program is Lucas Nicácio of Brazil, an ophthalmic surgeon who initially operated on Nicolly Pereira, a blind toddler who was diagnosed with pediatric glaucoma shortly after birth. Last March, two-year-old Nicolly traveled to Bascom Palmer from rural Brazil to undergo surgery in hopes of restoring her vision. A three-hour surgery performed by Grajewski restored her sight, allowing Nicolly to see her mother for the first time.

The Balkan Center is also home to the Childhood Glaucoma Research Network (CGRN), an international organization of more than 200 ophthalmologists in 38 countries who share a mutual interest in advancing pediatric glaucoma research and care. Through worldwide collaboration and emphasis on education, leading physicians from around the globe leverage each other’s experiences and understanding of the disease. Recently, the CGRN concluded the International Pilot Survey of Childhood Glaucoma. The two-year study is the first of its kind to gather data on the types and treatment methods of childhood glaucoma experienced throughout the world.

This past weekend, Bascom Palmer and the Balkan Center hosted a landmark glaucoma conference in conjunction with the United Kingdom Pediatric Glaucoma Society, with 150 thought leaders in glaucoma and pediatric glaucoma.

Tags: Balkan Center, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, glaucoma, pediatric glaucoma