Medical Eye center History
THE EARLY YEARS
When Dr. Jocelyn J. (J.J.) Emmens, Medical Eye Center’s founding physician, left his active Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat practice in Philadelphia for a new life out west, he could never have foreseen the legacy he was creating.
Building a Strong Foundation
Dr. Emmens established his new Rogue Valley office in 1911 and became renown for his skill as a surgeon and diagnostician. Joining with other area physicians in 1921, he helped found the Jackson County Medical Society, where he served on the three-member bylaws committee. In addition to his active professional life, Dr. Emmens participated in many civic affairs; he served as a member of the city council from 1916 to 1919 and was active in the Chamber of Commerce, leading the membership drive that brought the local organization to a metropolitan standing. Dr. Emmens passed away in 1934.
Dr. Emmens’ two sons, Thomas and Robert, also achieved local fame. Dr. Thomas H. Emmens followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the practice as an Ophthalmologist. Devoted to his Oregon home until his final days, Tom suffered a heart attack in Eugene after cheering on the University of Oregon football team against Stanford. Robert (Bob) Emmens joined the Army and served in the 17th Bomber Group. Four months after Pearl Harbor, as a member of the “Doolittle Raid,” he dropped four bombs on a power plant in Japan. The crew intended to land in Allied airfields in China, but they ran low on fuel and were forced to land in Russia, where Bob and his crew were held prisoner for 13 months until they could escape. Bob eventually followed his family into medicine and was on the surgery faculty at the University of Rochester in New York.
DR. WEISEL AND DR. RETZLAFF
As the years passed and the practice of medicine became more specialized, the practice began to focus primarily on eye care. Dr. John T. Weisel joined Medical Eye Center in the late 1950’s, and he worked with Dr. Emmens for a short time before he passed away. Dr. John Retzlaff was a local internist who decided to change fields, did an ophthalmology residency, and eventually joined Dr. Weisel.
Taking Cataract Care to a New Level
By 1968, Medical Eye Center was helmed by these two highly respected eye surgeons whose experience was soon respected throughout the world. Drs. Weisel and Retzlaff were early pioneers in cataract removal and lens implantation whose work contributed to the approval of the intraocular lens by the FDA. In 1974, they also performed the first cataract extraction by phacoemulsification in the state of Oregon. This process was the latest advancement in cataract removal at the time, and involved the use of an ultrasonic probe that vibrates 40,000 times per second and causes the cataract to disintegrate into small particles, which are then removed through a suction instrument. Until that time, patients were required to stay in the hospital for a few days, but phacoemulsification allowed for smaller incisions and a shorter, safer, post-operative course. This was a huge advance toward modern cataract surgery.
Dr. Weisel traveled the world lecturing to other doctors and teaching them to perform the delicate surgery of removing cataract-damaged lenses and replacing them with plastic ones. Those doctors have in turn taught the technique to many others, helping to refine surgical skills among their peers.
Dr. Retzlaff was an esteemed lecturer and researcher. In the mid-1980s, he helped develop a technique to determine the proper lens power to be used in cataract implants after the old lens is removed. Eye surgeons around the world still employ the SRK formula, of which the “R” stands for Retzlaff. He was also one of five doctors to participate in FDA research of a drug called bendazac for use in halting cataract development.
Medical Eye Center thrived under Weisel’s and Retzlaff’s leadership. They eventually recruited Dr. Philip Paden and Dr. Paul Jorizzo, and a new building was constructed in 1989 to accommodate additional technology and an increasing number of patients. This building, on the Rogue Valley Medical Center campus, featured education and patient counseling areas, in-office surgical suites, and the RVMC Eye Lab, providing the latest lasers and fluorescein angiographic equipment.
While Medical Eye Center continued on the leading edge of modern cataract surgery, the next wave of growth extended beyond cataracts and into the pursuit of other sub-specialty areas of ophthalmology.
Advanced Training Means Advanced Patient Care
Medical Eye Center has become a center of excellence with fellowship-trained specialists in refractive surgery, cornea transplantation, glaucoma, retina, and oculoplastics. Additional education is generally considered optional—but not to these doctors, whose priority is providing the best care possible to their patients. While it’s rare to find one physician with advanced training outside of large urban areas, Medical Eye Center has eight.
Paul Jorizzo, MD
With the addition of Dr. Paul Jorizzo in 1988, Medical Eye Center began its trend of exclusively hiring fellowship-trained ophthalmologists. With fellowship training at OHSU in glaucoma, plus an additional year of training in medical retina, Dr. Jorizzo expanded the scope and expertise of eye care in Southern Oregon with his specialty training in advanced surgical and laser therapies, along with his expertise in the medical management of glaucoma. Learn more…
Matt Oliva, MD
Dr. Matt Oliva joined Medical Eye Center in 2008. Dr. Oliva is a fellowship-trained surgeon specializing in leading-edge corneal transplant procedures known as DSEK, DSAEK, and INTACS. Dr. Oliva is deeply passionate about international service. He is a board member of CureBlindness.org and he serves as associate medical director of SightLife, the country’s largest eye bank based in Seattle. Learn more…
Craig Lemley, MD
In 2011, Dr. Craig Lemley joined the practice to offer advanced fellowship-training in vitreoretinal diseases. He has extensive experience in the treatment of ocular conditions including age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vascular disorders, macular hole, epiretinal membrane, retinal tear and detachment. Learn more…
Helen Koenigsman, MD
Dr. Helen Koenigsman joined the practice in 2013. She is a fellowship-trained glaucoma specialist who provides advanced medical, laser and surgical care for the treatment of glaucoma. She’s also an award-winning cataract surgeon offering the latest intraocular lenses to reduce patent’s dependence on glasses. Learn more…
John Welling, MD
Dr. John Welling joined the practice in 2016. He is a fellowship-trained corneal surgeon specializing in medical and surgical treatment of the eye, including cataract surgery, keratoconus, corneal cross linking, corneal transplants (penetrating keratoplasty, DSEK, DALK), laser vision correction (PRK and LASIK), pterygium surgery, ocular surface tumors, corneal dystrophies, and infection-related eye disease. He is also available for general ophthalmology, diabetic exams, uveitis, and routine eye care. Learn more…
In addition to advance care, Medical Eye Center offers the latest technology in comfortable, custom-designed eye care facilities.
Laser and Surgery Center
In 1996 Medical Eye Center opened a 5000 square foot Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC) with two operating rooms—the first ASC in Oregon to be AAAHC accredited. This same year, Dr. Paul Imperia brought the first Excimer laser to Southern Oregon, allowing him to perform refractive surgery on almost anyone seeking vision correction, whether nearsighted or farsighted, with or without astigmatism. This opened the door to treatment for many who had been previously told they were not candidates for vision correction.
New Medford Office
In October 2009, Medical Eye Center’s new 38,000-square-foot building was erected at the corner of Barnett Road and Highland Avenue, just a half mile west of the previous location. The new custom-designed facility further improves and expands the services that Medical Eye Center offers. Thanks to thoughtful planning, the new building allowed for expansion of surgical capacity and created more room for new state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, a larger optical department featuring the latest styles in fashion eyewear, special LASIK and oculoplastics surgical suites, a results-oriented medical spa and more.
Medical Eye Center has a long-standing tradition of giving back and the our team is committed to improving vision in our community, our region, and our world. Through community partnerships, Medical Eye Center provides eye care for patients in need in our valley, as well as surgical expeditions and training for international surgeons to help end preventable blindness all over the world.
Every year Medical Eye Center surgeons travel abroad to countries such as Honduras, Peru, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Christmas Island to perform operations for individuals who would otherwise have lost their sight due to a lack of resources. For the doctors, this humanitarian work reminds them of why they became ophthalmologists. In addition to training surgeons in the developing countries they visit, MEC doctors also host both U.S. and international surgeons in their Medford office, offering advanced training to other regional eye care providers. Learn more…
From humble beginnings as a one-physician office, to the largest eye care practice in Southern Oregon, we sincerely hope Dr. J.J. Emmens would be proud of everything he helped create!