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A Visionary Gift

Grateful patient’s family gives to the doctors who saved their loved one’s sight

Some say the eyes are the windows to the soul. For doctors, they’re also a window into the brain. The two are hardwired via the optic nerve, enabling the quick relay of images necessary for sight. This connection can also be a direct path for disease, which is one reason eye cancer is so serious.

Praveen Ramakrishnan, M.D.
Praveen Ramakrishnan, M.D.

“This disease is extremely complex and demands nuanced treatment to manage,” said Praveen Ramakrishnan, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine in UT Southwestern’s Division of Hematology and Oncology. “There is only one circuit separating the eye from the brain, putting them in constant communication with each other. Just as this disease affects the eye, it can easily affect the brain.”

Dr. Ramakrishnan recalled a patient he treated a couple of years ago with his colleague, Rafael Ufret-Vincenty, M.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at UT Southwestern. The diagnosis was a rare form of eye cancer called intraocular lymphoma. The cancer threatened the patient’s vision in his right eye and posed a serious risk to his life.

The doctors recommended starting to treat the cancer by injecting chemotherapy drugs into the eye on a weekly basis to control the disease. After several weeks, the oncology team administered chemotherapy intravenously, hoping to achieve a lasting response.

Rafael Ufret-Vincenty, M.D.
Rafael Ufret-Vincenty, M.D.

“We basically began treating him with a protocol we follow for patients with primary central nervous system lymphoma – a form of aggressive lymphoma that affects the brain and nervous system,” Dr. Ramakrishnan said. “He underwent four months of this kind of treatment, and I’m happy to report that he is very much alive and free of disease.”

Thrilled with the outcome, the patient and his family were understandably grateful. While they had made smaller gifts to UT Southwestern in the past, they wanted to show their appreciation to the doctors whose teamwork saved their family member’s eyesight and life. They decided on a meaningful gift to UT Southwestern to be shared between the two physicians and used for ongoing research.

When Dr. Ramakrishnan heard about the gift, his first thought was to call and thank the family for a “wonderful and unexpected act of kindness.”

He’s looking forward to using the donation to possibly further the work of his specialized central nervous system lymphoma task force as it seeks to develop better therapeutics and to explore more advanced neuroimaging using novel MRI techniques.

Equally excited about the prospects of the gift, Dr. Ufret-Vincenty hopes to purchase equipment to support his research into genes that may modulate retinal degeneration and early-onset glaucoma. He stressed the importance of unrestricted research funds like this gift, which can support new projects and potentially produce the kind of early-stage results needed to apply for federal or private research funding.

“This gift can help us generate the preliminary data to allow us to submit a full-blown grant application,” he said, adding that the unexpected gift and the opportunities it will create for his research have been encouraging.

“I considered it to be such a gratifying vote of confidence in the meaningful work we are doing.”