Interview with Dr. Donny Won Suh

Dr. Donny Won Suh, Pediatric Ophthalmologist at Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) and at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, joked with Megan Webber of KnowTheGlow, that his wife likes to call him “Donny Gump” as he has traveled the world with Orbis on medical missions for more than 21 years now and has seen it all; from top to bottom to top again.  Before diving into the particulars about his work,  he wanted to first learn more about Megan, her family, hobbies, and favorite things. A true testament to the remarkably transparent and selfless person that Dr. Suh is, he wanted to take the time to better get to know the person with whom he was speaking.  Always engaging and providing the human touch that is often missing in our fast-paced world, Dr. Suh was also very candid.  In addition to seeing it all Dr. Suh has also lived it all.  When Megan asked him about his multiple medical missions, he said that it is hard to talk about Orbis without discussing his childhood and how it shaped the person he is today (you can read his full life story as we did in his incredible book, Catching a Star). Growing up with very little in South Korea and coming to America as a young boy who could not even begin to speak the language he still had dreams of one day becoming a doctor.  Hearing this and knowing just how out of reach was such a goal his mother told him “That’s like catching a star!”  

He often asks of himself and of others– Why do we do what we do?  “There are angels and miracles all around us,” Dr. Suh expressed, and he makes it clear to his medical students that they must appreciate every person that comes into their lives. Everyone is important and everyone truly is a gift from God. There have been countless people no longer living who have touched Dr. Suh in his life.  Since repaying these people is not possible; Dr. Suh feels that God instead prepared him to be a person to pay it forward and to give hope to those in need.  For this reason and many others, Orbis fulfills this need to give hope to others around the world. It is easy to look at Orbis and think it is about traveling on these missions or about the truly astounding Flying Eye Hospital but at its core, it is really about connecting and giving people HOPE.

This October, Dr. Suh will once again be presenting a lecture on pediatric eye conditions, including leukocoria, that pediatricians may find themselves facing in their practices.  Megan has often wanted to help put eye screening and eye health at the forefront of pediatric preventative eye care especially in the 0-5 age group and she was thrilled to see that Dr. Suh was scheduled to make this presentation. Dr. Suh told Megan that this lecture, which is given with Dr. Binitha Shah, is one of the popular programs at the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) annual meeting every year. So why isn’t there enough interest by pediatricians in eye care generally and why are so many conditions missed if his classes and eye care symposiums at pediatric conferences are so popular?  

Dr. Suh suggested to Megan that to answer that you must first understand the PROBLEM.  For medical students, a rotation in ophthalmology is not a requirement astonishingly so many medical students graduate without ever having any interactions with ophthalmology. Dr. Suh went on to explain that medicine has become so super-specialized that medical schools must stick to the core curriculum to graduate students in time which sadly means that students often have minimal to no exposure to ophthalmology.  So how does Dr. Suh grab their attention?  He starts with one simple fact — 80% of what our little ones learn is presented to them  VISUALLY. It is not only about learning in school but also about how children learn sports and watch cues regarding social interaction.  This realization resonates with students. The second fact Dr. Suh shares is the “iceberg” rule.  Many pediatricians feel that since you only see 10% of the eye, you don’t know what is lurking in the remaining 90%.  It scares them and there is a great fear factor in being asked to make a diagnosis on 10% without not being able to “see” what is actually happening within the remaining 90%.  Dr. Suh educates them about the transparency of the eye (as they learn when performing the Bruckner Red Reflex exam) and how it is that you actually do not have to see 100% of the eye to make a proper diagnosis.  This leads to Dr. Suh’s third and most important fact for pediatricians to appreciate – that the eyeball and the brain are one contiguous organ.  What the eye sees has a huge impact on how the brain develops.  It is through Dr. Suh’s focus on education about these three facts that he successfully dispels their fears. Helping pediatricians recognize and overcome these “blind spots” in their own practice is its own reward and there are countless children who owe their vision to Dr. Suh’s engaging presentations!

KnowTheGlow is privileged to open our audience’s eyes to the work of Dr. Donny Won Suh and we look forward to showcasing more of his insights and educational words of wisdom in our community and around the world.  It’s easy to see why he was voted Best Doctor in America!  We encourage all to pick up a copy of his inspirational book which will have you engaged from page one.  Having a positive impact on the world, realizing your blessings, recognizing your gifts and talents and paying it forward, Dr. Suh shares generously through his life’s hard learned lessons.  He will leave you anxious to read his next book and ready to reach out to catch your own star!