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Agarwal’s macular diseases research lands high honor

Apr. 3, 2014, 9:35 AM

Walk into ophthalmologist Anita Agarwal’s office at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute and there is something remarkably different about the décor.

Anita Agarwal, M.D., center, here with Emily Chu, M.D., and Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., recently received the Donald M. Gass Medal from the Macula Society.

It’s not that she is a minimalist or hasn’t had time to display mementos of recognition on the walls. Rather she has chosen not to, until now.

Agarwal, M.D., professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, will mount her J. Donald M. Gass Medal on the wall directly in front of her as a source of inspiration.

“My office doesn’t have any of my certificates on the wall,” said Agarwal. “But I do plan to put my medal facing my desk as a constant reminder for me to do my best, strive to do better, to be always engaged, to seek understanding of new diseases and to discover new therapies.

“This medal will help inspire me along my journey to continue to be the best I can be.”
During the annual meeting of the Macula Society, Agarwal was recognized with the organization’s highest honor, the Gass Medal for outstanding contributions in the study of macular diseases.

Receiving the medal has significant meaning for Agarwal, who completed her medical retina fellowship under Gass’ mentorship at Vanderbilt, worked alongside him and later assumed his clinical practice. Gass, who died in 2005, was one of the world’s most respected experts on diseases of the retina, macula and uvea.

She also updated his groundbreaking book “Stereoscopic Atlas of Macular Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment.” Known as the Gass Atlas, it is the premier medical textbook on macular diseases.

“Anita has emerged as the heir apparent to Dr. Gass’ preeminent role as a premier diagnostician and educator,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of VEI. “What is most impressive (about the Gass Atlas) is how she is able to have completely revised the book, while maintaining the voice of Gass.

“Her fund of knowledge and diagnostic skills are impressive and reminiscent of Dr. Gass. Anita has clearly become one of the small number of individuals in our field who have an encyclopedic knowledge of the literature and who play leading roles in case conferences,” Sternberg said.

For Agarwal, receiving the medal is an honor she has difficulty explaining.

“Dr. Gass was the best in our field, hands down. He could look at things on the surface and make observations no one else could. He was way ahead of his time.

“When I have an unusual presentation in a patient, I always look back and think ‘what would Don Gass think about this?’ It’s an honor to continue to do what he taught me.”

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