Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr., M.D., F 69
Resume’ of the post-BPEI life of Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr.
Arriving at BPEI in February 1968, I was able to spend 5 months in the laboratory studying experimental retinal detachment with Robert Machemer prior to beginning my year of clinical retinal fellowship, which ended in June 1969. The training in medical/surgical retinal disease and mentorship with Drs. Norton, Curtin, Gass and Kroll gave me a great basis for starting a Retinal section at the Marquette Medical School (Milwaukee), a privatized spin-off from Marquette University, upon completing my laboratory and clinical fellowship.
Within 1 month of beginning my position in Milwaukee, Marquette Medical School ran out of operating funds and closed, leaving the entire clinical faculty without employment. The Dean expeditiously arranged for “bridge-funding” from the State of Wisconsin with the proviso that the name of the medical school be changed so as to not conflict with Wisconsin law (which prohibited state funding of religiously affiliated schools)—hence the name Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). I, and the entire faculty, was again employed. MCW became independently financially stable over the next few years. I established a primate laboratory and began a vitreoretinal fellowship program that continues to graduate top specialists, currently under the directorship of Dennis Han, MD.
My close association with Robert Machemer, who continued to be a mentor, confidant and friend until his death, led to my introduction to mechanical pars plana vitrectomy. Robert brought his early prototype VISC-2, as well as a slit-beam microscope attachment (since there was no endoscopic light capability at that time) to MCW and we performed 7 PPVs in 1970. Once again, mentorship by a “giant in the field” gave me an incredible academic professional course which continues to this day. Most important to me was the ability to interact with amazing individuals involved with the MCW vitreoretinal program, either as fellows or faculty, who subsequently carried on the tripartite role of research, teaching and patient care (similar to those who have completed the BPEI program). On a personal note, my understanding, patient and resourceful wife, Judy, put up with the many twists and turns of my career and raised our three wonderful children in Milwaukee. Tom Jr., who subsequently became a resident and vitreoretinal/oncologist at BPEI is a father of two and is married to BPEI resident/oculoplastic alumna, Melissa Aaberg, nee Meldrum, both currently practicing in Grand Rapids, MI; Leigh Ruehman, a Physician Assistant in anesthesiology, now has a full-time position as a mother of four in Boise ID; and Sarah Curtin, currently a family practice physician in McCall ID, is also a mother of two.
I was recruited by Emory University to rebuild the Department of Ophthalmology so, on a cold 1988 New Year’s Day in Milwaukee (about -10F as we recall), Judy and I headed south. Upon arriving, we discovered the South was also having a “cold spell;” it was about +30 F in Atlanta but we had just gained + 40 degrees so we were overjoyed. Over the years, helped by its association with a strong University and School of Medicine, the Emory Eye Center added a very illustrious clinical and research faculty acquiring recognition throughout the country. I was a neophyte at fund-raising, essential for endowing the division chairs and research positions/activities. I again went back to my BPEI mentors and learned from the master, Dr. Norton, the technique of being open regarding needs, forthcoming regarding ability to fulfill the programmatic plans if funded and absolutely transparent about the use of donations. Fortunately, donors were very generous so Emory Eye Center enjoyed both structural and programmatic growth during the 20 years I served as Chair. Emory was fortunate to recruit Timothy Olson, MD, from the University of Minnesota when I stepped down as Chair in 2008 so the department continues to flourish and expand. I have now joined the Emory University Emeritus College, made up of emeritus professors from all its university schools, so my education now continues on an expanded horizon. I also now volunteer at Grady Hospital on a monthly basis and still marvel at the way Geoffrey Broocker runs that departmental venue and unselfishly devotes his life to the education of residents and fellows.
Judy and I reside with our labrador, Loki, in Greensboro GA on Lake Oconee. The venue at Lake Oconee is great but we often reflect how fortunate we were 43 years ago to be invited to join the BPEI family.