Published: Mar. 31, 2011
Updated: Apr. 1, 2011
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A pioneering ophthalmologist known as “the retina surgeon’s retina surgeon” is retiring from the Duke Eye Center in March 2011. But his influence will continue through his legacy of all the accomplished surgeons he has trained for Duke and beyond.
Brooks McCuen II, MD, Robert Machemer Professor of Ophthalmology, has advanced and evolved the technique of vitrectomy. This surgery which was invented by Robert Machemer, MD, who was chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke in 1979 when Dr. McCuen first joined the Eye Center as a retina fellow.
Vitrectomy is surgery performed on the back of the eye to remove diseased vitreous and scar tissue, enabling repair of a detached retina to restore sight for many patients.
“Dr. McCuen is the 'retina surgeon’s retina surgeon,'” says David Epstein, MD, MMM, director of the Eye Center. “Retina surgeons from all over the world who have a difficult case will send it to him."
"He is the 'gold standard,'” adds Eric Postel, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology. “Dr. McCuen has led the field in terms of understanding processes and therapies for many different diseases.”
Dr. McCuen spent nearly 19 years as chief of Duke’s vitreoretinal service and 20 years as director of the Duke Eye Center’s successful fellowship program.
In 2007, he was honored with the prestigious Gertrude Pyron Award from the Retina Research Foundation, which recognizes outstanding vision scientists whose work contributes to knowledge about vitreoretinal disease.
“He has been a wonderful colleague and leader of the department. I have counted on him greatly for his leadership and citizenship during my time as chair,” says Dr. Epstein.
In addition to his own research and clinical contributions, Dr. McCuen has nurtured the careers of many successful vitreoretinal surgeons at Duke and as far afield as Japan, Egypt, and Europe.
Dr. Postel came to Duke as a resident and then did his retina fellowship elsewhere. Dr. McCuen was instrumental in bringing him back to Duke. Dr. McCuen similarly mentored Prithvi Mruthyunjaya, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, who performed both a residency and a fellowship at Duke under Dr. McCuen.
“Dr. McCuen encourages and fosters people’s interests in retinal surgery, either by the example that he sets or in collaboration in research and clinical care,” Dr. Mruthyunjaya says. “He is respected not only here at Duke but also across the country.”
A true team player, Dr. McCuen also has used his decades of experience to help colleagues improve their work as when he helped Dr. Mruthyunjaya and Cynthia Toth, MD, write a paper describing a new surgical concept called macular translocation.
“As we were formulating the paper, Dr. McCuen gave us some parameters for how to best present our outcomes visually so that ophthalmologists reading the paper could see in a tangible way how to apply this surgery to their patients. If it weren’t for Dr. McCuen doing that, it would have been harder for us to convey the importance of Dr. Toth’s groundbreaking work in this field,” Dr. Mruthyunjaya says.
“The one thing that all of us will always wish for is to have Dr. McCuen right next to us at the operating table or microscope giving his pearls of wisdom.”
Dr. McCuen’s other passion besides retina is boating, and he and his family will spend the next year traveling along the Inland Waterway, likely flying the Duke flag. For us, he will always represent the very best of Duke Ophthalmology.