August 15, 2013

Glaucoma patients focus of Sousan’s sharing nature

Suzanne Sousan is not afraid of much.

Suzanne Sousan’s experiences as a patient of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute inspired her to contribute to the fight against glaucoma. (photo by Joe Howell)

Suzanne Sousan is not afraid of much.

No stranger to adversity, in a short span of time she lost her husband to cancer, survived a melanoma that invaded her eye cavity and overcame two floods.

Through the tumult she triumphed.

But there was one thing that challenged her — the prospect of losing her eyesight. After learning that her father had glaucoma, Sousan had to find out if she too had inherited the condition.

She made an appointment to see Karen Joos, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI). As one of the leading glaucoma specialists in the country, Joos closely monitored Sousan for any signs of the condition, the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Karen Joos, M.D., Ph.D.

“Although I don’t have glaucoma, I am so glad that Dr. Joos has been so diligent, concerned and caring,” said Sousan. “What really alarmed me? There is no cure yet and most people don’t even know they have the disease.

“For me, it is all about quality of life,” said Sousan.

Glaucoma is a chronic disease that affects nearly 4 million people in the United States. It leads to damage of the optic nerve typically caused by increased pressure in the eye that can result in vision loss. The disease often requires lifelong treatment to control.

Armed with information about early detection and treatment, Sousan wanted to do something to help to make an impact on patients and families living with blinding eye diseases.

In 2011, the William A. Black Glaucoma Research Fund was created in memory of her late father. Recently the William A. Black Chair in Ophthalmology at VEI was established. Both gifts were made in honor of Joos.

“We are thrilled that Ms. Sousan has chosen to support the Vanderbilt Eye Institute through these wonderful gifts,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., George Weeks Hale Professor and chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of VEI. “The continued success of VEI’s academic mission is inextricably linked to the generosity of grateful patients like Suzanne Sousan, and I am pleased that she has elected to make these gifts in honor of Dr. Joos.”
Joos is touched by the gifts.

“There is no greater reward than that of a patient’s acknowledgment of a job well done,” said Joos.

“The physician-patient relationship is one I take to heart. And as our patients entrust me and my colleagues with their vision, it is an exceptional honor when a patient elects to contribute toward developing new methods for the fight against blindness.”

“Mrs. Sousan’s generosity will help propel cutting edge research at Vanderbilt, resulting in discoveries that will positively impact not only our patients battling glaucoma but the lives of others around the world battling devastating eye diseases,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “I want to express my gratitude for these gifts.”

For Sousan, the donation was a way she could make a tangible contribution in an effort to continue the groundbreaking work in blinding eye diseases conducted at Vanderbilt.

“I am not a doctor,” said Sousan. “And I cannot offer any useful skills in a lab. But what I can do is share. This is how I can help. This is how I hope that I can help make a difference.

“If they can intervene and change the outcomes — what a vision that would be.”