Sight Preservation: Leading the charge against glaucoma-related blindness in African-Americans

During his ophthalmology rotation in medical school at the SUNY-Buffalo in the mid-1970s, Dr. Kevin C. Greenidge discovered what would become his professional passion. ?I was very impressed by the number of patients?most of whom were African-American?who were going blind from glaucoma,? he says. ?I was told at that time that most of this blindness was preventable. Out of that experience, I decided I wanted to go into ophthalmology and see if I could be part of preventing that blindness.?

Today, Greenidge is an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist, and a professor and chairman of the department of ophthalmology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. He is also chairman of ophthalmology at Long Island College Hospital, where he has an ophthalmology practice.

The rate of blindness for African-Americans is eight times that of whites. ?We?re not quite certain as to why African-Americans have a greater amount of blindness, but it may relate to genetics and structural differences in the eye,? says Greenidge.? He cites a 10-year study conducted by The National Eye Institute that shows that African-Americans have thinner corneas, which significantly increases their risk of progression of glaucoma.

Greenidge received a master?s in Public Health from Harvard University in 1977, and obtained a fellowship in glaucoma research at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. During his fellowship, in 1981, laser therapy for glaucoma was still in its infancy and ophthalmologists were investigating various ways to make the procedure less risky and more effective. ?I proposed the current procedure that?s used to treat open-angle glaucoma,? says Greenidge. The procedure is used by ophthalmologists to this day.

But his most recent project is how Greenidge hopes to leave a lasting legacy. He is in the process of establishing the SUNY Downstate Eye Institute in Brooklyn, a clinical and research institute focused on eliminating ocular health-care disparities. ?At Downstate Medical Center, we have one of the largest populations of African-Americans with diabetes and glaucoma in the country,? Greenidge explains. He and his colleagues are collaborating with other institutions to compare African-American patients who suffer from diabetes and glaucoma and European patients with the same diseases. ?The creation, funding and establishment of this Institute, which I hope will investigate what these differences are, will be my greatest accomplishment,? Greenidge says.