Eye opener

Associate Professor Leonard Ang, 39

  • OCCUPATION: Medical director of The Eye & Cornea Transplant Centre and the Premium Lasik Surgery Clinic at Paragon Medical
  • AWARDS: He is the only medical doctor to be awarded the prestigious Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Award in 2005 for research. He has won 26 international and local scientific awards; written more than 90 articles in international journals and scientific publications and seven book chapters on cornea and refractive surgery in various medical textbooks.

I decided to specialise in ophthalmology because...

Eyes are the windows to our soul and our sight is arguably one of the body's most important senses.

I want to help restore vision to people with eye disease and poor vision. I also enjoy the delicate and precise surgery involved in ophthalmology.

The eye is fascinating because...

Measuring a mere 2.4cm, the eye is the most complex organ in the body after the brain. Its millions of components help us to see clearly.

The retina or nerve layer alone packs more than 120 million sensory cells to detect images. Vision will be greatly affected if any part of the eye is damaged by disease.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be...

Sherlock Holmes. I rely on small clues to reach a diagnosis, often searching for that subtle sign or clue.

I have come across all types of cases...

From healthy young patients with myopia who want to improve their quality of life through Lasik to older patients with presbyopia (long-sightedness) and cataracts.

I also see patients with blinding conditions that require corneal or stem cell transplants. Having their vision partially restored is life-changing for these people.

A typical day for me would be...

I start the day at 8am with surgery, followed by outpatient clinics till about 1pm. I take a 10-minute lunch break, then again see patients and perform surgery.

Work ends at around 7pm. I rush home for dinner and to spend time with my family. My wife, 37, is a housewife and we have three children, two sons aged five and one, and a three-year-old daughter.

I usually read bedtime stories to my children and put them to bed. I then write research papers, prepare talks and answer e-mail before going to bed at midnight.

On weekends, I usually take my family out for excursions to spend some time with them.

I love patients who are...

Appreciative. As a perfectionist, I always do my best to give patients the best possible treatment. However, not all eye conditions can be cured, especially if the disease is at an advanced stage. It is gratifying when patients appreciate all the hard work and effort that I put in to achieve the best outcome for them.

Patients who get my goat...

I seldom get annoyed, but I occasionally have patients who have unrealistic expectations and are demanding and unreasonable.

One little known fact about cataracts...

Modern cataract operations are possible thanks to World War II. Sir Harold Ridley discovered that pieces of perspex that got into pilots' eyes (from shattered windshields) were not rejected by the body. This material was later modified to become artificial lenses now used in cataract surgery.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

When I am able to restore vision and improve the quality of life of my patients - especially if the patients have been blind for years. Their overwhelming joy gives me a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that is immeasurable.

Seeing my wife and children after a long day at work also brightens me up.

It breaks my heart when...

There is little that I can do to help patients whose eyes are irreversibly damaged.

I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

I love what I do. Not only can I make a difference in people's lives, but I also get to do my research in stem cell therapy and tissue engineering to help develop treatment methods that can cure complex eye conditions.

My best tip...

From the age of 45, it is wise to have regular eye checks at least once a year to detect early eye disease, because 80 per cent of blindness in the world is preventable.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.

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