2005-02-23—Ratner Children's Eye Center
Dor l’ dor, from
generation to generation, Jewish tradition teaches. Anne Ratner of San Diego
remembers that her father-in-law, Isaac, always helped anyone who approached him
on the street with a hard-luck story. He
was concerned lest he fail to respond to the one person who might really need
his assistance the most, "so he didn't turn anyone down," she
Now in her 90's, Ratner
said she also remembers how her late husband, the clothing manufacturer Abraham
Ratner "always was interested in helping children"—thus, Anne's
decision to underwrite Tifereth
Israel Synagogue’s Abraham Ratner Torah School.
Both Anne and Abraham had
eye problems and while being treated at UCSD's
Shiley Eye Clinic, Anne also became interested in Dr. Stuart
Brown's dream of creating a center that would deal exclusively with
children's eye problems. She quoted
Brown, chairman of UCSD's ophthalmology department, as telling her that for some
children "if you don't get to them before they are five, they can have a
problem that can never be repaired."
So, she provided the
financing to build the Abraham Ratner Children's Eye Center, but her interest
did not end when the center named in her husband’s memory opened nine years
ago. She also donated the funds for
the Anne F. Ratner Endowed Chair of Pediatric Ophthalmology, which has been
occupied from the outset by Dr. David Granet.
Additionally she has helped finance an eye mobile that is a critical part
of UCSD's outreach to children in the underserved communities of San Diego
And yet, neither Ratner
nor other members of her extended family, believe they have done enough.
Modestly declining to tell the extent of their donations, they are
involved in a campaign to double the size of the children's eye clinic, which
UCSD has decided to rename as the Anne and Abraham Ratner Children's Eye Center.
The Ratner Children’s Eye Center’s program for children is wide in scope. Among those playing an important role is Barbara Brody, a PhD whose responsibilities include overseeing the ophthalmology department's community outreach program. Digital photographs are taken of thousands of children's eyes at preschools and Head Start programs at approximately 170 locations throughout San Diego County. A computer reads these images, flagging those that indicate possible eye problems. In such cases, parents are invited to bring their children to the eye mobile for a follow-up examination.
Recently, at the Brooklyn
Child Development Center at 3303 A Street, San Diego, Sharie Ford in
response to one of those invitations accompanied her four-year-old son. As
Patrick was given a series of eye tests, his mother expressed appreciation to
Brody and to Marcia Hazan, the granddaughter of Anne Ratner, not only for
Patrick’s examination but also for the fact that the eye mobile comes right to
the school grounds. For working parents, she pointed out, "this is very
convenient.” If the examination had to be conducted somewhere else, "I
would have to pick him up, take him somewhere else, and then bring him
It is a trailblazing
program. Hazan, at the eye mobile for a tour, commented that her daughter, Shana,
wishes there could be a similar outreach effort in Chicago where she teaches
fourth grade. In that city, she
reported, many students “have problems and can’t see and there is nobody to
really address those issues.”
Bill Orvis, a UCSD
graduate in history who manages the eye mobile, administered a series of vision
tests to Patrick, a bright and energetic child. Patrick particularly enjoyed one
requiring him to put on the type of 3-D glasses that moviegoers used to wear and
to look at a picture of a fly. Orvis
asked young Patrick to try to grab the fly in his hand, and Patrick swiped at
the image above the paper on which it was printed—a good result because it
meant that Patrick was seeing in three dimensions.
If he had reached all the way down to the paper, it might have meant he
could only see flat images.
Meanwhile, inside a
compact examining room in the back of the eye mobile, Dr. Lara Hustana, an
optometrist who also did her undergraduate work at UCSD, tested Fabian
Caballero, 4, for visual acuity, eye posture and diverse eye diseases. In one
examination, in which grandmother Maria Elena Enriquez was asked to click a
button to project simple images on a wall, Fabian was asked in Spanish to
identify what he was seeing. In essence, the exercise was a diversion—a way to
hold the engaging young Fabian’s interest while Dr. Hustana searched his eyes
with her machines.
As in the cases of Patrick
and Fabian, examinations often indicate no serious problems. Many students
simply need eyeglasses, which UCSD makes and delivers to them at their
However, if an eye
examination indicates more serious problems, then an appointment will be made at
the Anne & Abraham Ratner Children's Eye Center. From the way it is
furnished, to the clothing worn by the doctors, the Ratner Center is designed to
make children feel comfortable in what otherwise might be intimidating
The reception area boasts
a large fish tank—with a puffer fish inside never failing to draw the interest
of children-- that was donated to the center by Anne Ratner's daughter, Pauline
Foster and her late husband, Stan Foster—both of them well known leaders of
the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.
The examination rooms,
painted in separate colors of the rainbow— red, yellow, green and blue —
also have cartoons playing to keep the children amused while they are waiting
for the doctor. After eye
examination are completed, Adamcik confesses, “the parents often are ready to
leave but the kids aren't."
The 5,000 children who
visit the facility yearly may be treated by Granet—who shuns white coats as
too forbidding, and likes to wears ties and even socks decorated with children's
favorite cartoon characters —or by Dr. Shira Robbins, who, like Granet is a
member of the Jewish community and knows how a bespectacled teddy bear can help
a child relax during an examination.
Explaining why a special
center was needed just for children's eye problems, Granet said that as a child
grows, and especially in the first 18 months of a child's life, dramatic changes
are occurring in his or her visual system. "If you don't have a system that works properly at the
right time, that child will never see--it is not something you can fix later in
Granet said he just had
spent 25 minutes on the floor with an 18-month old child "trying to get him
to play with me" so he could do an examination.
In the case of a child’s vision, unfortunately, "if you don't use
it, you lose it," Granet said. "So,
for example, if a child needs significant glasses in one eye and we find them at
age 9, I can put the prescription on him but he will not see because the
connection between the eye and the brain was never made.
That is a completely treatable blindness if it is caught early, but
irreversible if it is caught late. That
is why catching kids early is so important."
One of the programs of the
Ratner Children's Eye Center attempts to measure the impact on a child's life of
having vision problems successfully treated. Granet said that a fellowship named after Stan Foster goes to
a PhD who "looks at the consequences of all these visual things on the
children that we have been working on — to demonstrate the effect and value of
catching these kids early."
The center also trains
foreign doctors, with one from the Philippines and another from Brazil currently
"We realize that
children's brains start working early, and that the earlier they start learning,
they better they perform,” Brown said. “ The earlier you read to your child,
the earlier that they are challenged, the better they perform in life.
But how do they do it, if it is uncomfortable for them to see, or if they
can't see well--if a good part of their brain isn't getting what it needs?”