Self-esteem. Social skills. Physical and motor development.
For children, it all depends—in some way or another—on healthy eyesight, according to University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Ophthalmologist Ray Areaux, MD, who is an eye physician and surgeon for children.
Areaux is one member of the care team at Minnesota Lions Children’s Eye Clinic on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota Medical Center campus in Minneapolis. We asked Areaux to tell us more about his work as a pediatric ophthalmologist, and the joy he experiences in helping his young patients.
I am experienced in treating complex problems both inside and around the eyes in children, including: glaucoma, cataracts, strabismus, nystagmus, ptosis, eyelid malposition and tumors, nasolacrimal duct obstruction, retinopathy of prematurity and amblyopia. I also work to improve our electronic health records so that doctors can spend less time with charts and more time face-to-face with their patients.
Having healthy eyesight as a child is important because it grants children lifelong developmental and social advantages. I follow many of my patients throughout childhood and even into adulthood. This continuity allows me to build strong bonds and a high degree of trust with my patients and their families, which is a unique opportunity as a surgical subspecialist. Patients and families have many questions and concerns about the various surgical and non-surgical treatments available. The Internet is full of information, and families need open ears and an experienced perspective from their pediatric ophthalmologist to navigate these options and choose which is best for their child. I find tremendous fulfillment in educating families and building long-term relationships together.
Though children and adults are certainly capable of leading happy, fulfilling lives with little or no eyesight, a child’s intellectual, motor and social skills—not to mention his or her self-esteem, independence and ability to achieve goals—are all closely tied to vision. I feel honored to improve the eye health and visual development of every child I meet.
I am an advocate for children with special visual needs. Beyond medicine and surgery, some children may require special testing, diagnoses, letters of support and assistance mobilizing resources or education so they are able to lead their most healthy, happy and productive lives.
As an educator, I love talking (and playing) with children and their families. Explaining the intricacies of eye structure and function, the various medical and surgical treatment options and then setting clear goals or expectations for the future are some of the most rewarding parts of patient visits for me. Additionally, my position at the University of Minnesota Medical School allows me to train the next generation of ophthalmologists at all levels (medical students, residents, and fellows) and forces me to stay up-to-date with new innovations to provide the highest standards of care.
This is a hard one because I’m inspired daily by my patients’ presence, stories and above all their trust. I’ve been blessed with many clinic visits, emails, and phone calls from happy and thankful children and their parents. Some outstanding memories include: Sharing the joy of parents who literally jumped out of their chairs in my office to tell me about the remarkable bursts of developmental progress they witnessed in their child after I repaired his strabismus. Feeling a family’s relief and sense of triumph after months of clinic visits and surgeries culminated in finally gaining control over their child’s challenging glaucoma. Witnessing a family’s relief after I repaired their daughter’s complex eye and eyelid injury with sight intact. Many moments like these come to mind. Every child has his or her own beautiful story, and playing a positive role in each is my privilege every day.
Our staff at the Minnesota Lions Children’s Eye Clinic is phenomenal—truly world-class. Everyone works to the absolute best of their abilities every day, and they’re always ready to lend a hand when asked for their expertise. There is a palpable sense in the clinic that our work is a vocation, that we each have unique gifts to offer our patients and that we realize their best outcomes by working as a team.