Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

A special Villager supplement

Hospitals, Health & Volunteers

In the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary’s Retina Center, doctors use optical coherence tomography for the earliest diagnosis of macular degeneration. This new tool scans the eye’s interior and combines images to allow physicians to uncover even the smallest defects in the retina.

187 years focusing on treating eyes, ears and more

By Brooke Edwards

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in the East Village is the oldest specialty hospital in the nation. It was founded in 1820 and its first president, Colonel William Few, was one of the signers of the Constitution.

As its name suggests, the infirmary, located at 14th St. and Second Ave., provides the latest and most advanced treatments for conditions related to the eyes and ears. It also has services to treat conditions of the throat and nose, and has a sleep center to study patients who struggle with insomnia. On average, the infirmary serves 142,000 outpatients and conducts more than 20,000 surgical procedures each year, including operations for more than 3,500 children.

Many of the procedures considered routine today — such as cataract surgery — have been pioneered at the infirmary. Jean Thomas, a spokesperson, said the hospital has continued to expand its services over the past year.

The newest addition to the four-building hospital complex is the Ear Institute, home to the city’s largest staff of doctors specializing in ear diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic ear disease, hearing loss, vertigo and tumors of the ear and skull base. They also perform cochlear implants and prescribe hearing aids.

Within the Ear Institute, the infirmary recently combined its Cochlear Implant Center with Beth Israel’s Cochlear Implant Center. It is now one of the area’s largest providers of this surgery to benefit infants and children with deafness, hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

Another new expansion is The Voice & Swallowing Institute. There, anyone who has to speak for a living — such as a teacher, trader, telemarketer or TV performer — can be treated for problems that have caused persistent hoarseness or pain. The treatment team includes a laryngologist (or throat doctor), a physiologist and a speech pathologist.

The vision department also greatly expanded its Retina Center last year. This is a highly specialized facility for diagnosis and treatment of potentially blinding or painful conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, eye tumors and age-related macular degeneration.

Those who can’t make it into the infirmary can receive a free at-home test for macular degeneration by calling the infirmary’s information line at 212-979-4472.

Another leading cause of vision loss is glaucoma, which is actually a group of diseases associated with increased pressure in the eye that damages the optic nerve transmitting visual information to the brain. The infirmary’s glaucoma services are international renowned for advancing diagnosis and treatment through high-tech imaging equipment, state-of-the-art surgical techniques, clinical drug trials and numerous research programs.

In addition, the infirmary has the region’s only pediatric glaucoma program, for the small but significant number of children who have an eye disease that most commonly occurs in adults.

The infirmary is also the primary teaching hospital for the New York Medical College, and graduates more than 20 fellows and residents each year.

The infirmary did have one setback. Early last year, its Vision Correction Center — which provided laser vision correction for 11 years — closed for financial reasons, according to the hospital’s Web site. In a letter, Dr. Douglas F. Buxton, the infirmary’s alumni president, wrote: “Hospital Administration came to the conclusion that it could no longer subsidize the substantial losses incurred [by the V.C.C.]. This has proven to be not only a major inconvenience to the attending staff involved in refractive surgery, but also threatens the character, quality and integrity of the resident teaching program.”

Still, The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary has been consistently rated by U.S. News & World Report as among the country’s top 10 eye hospitals. Its programs and doctors continue to receive some of the most prestigious awards in the field. The infirmary also leads conferences and training seminars, including a presentation to the United Nations last Friday on the high occurrence of thyroid cancer in Eastern European immigrants still affected by nuclear fallout exposure from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

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