UCI to open first academic eye institute

When the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute opens its doors to the public Tuesday, UC Irvine will become home to Orange County's first academic eye institute.

The 70,000-square-foot eye health institute, which is part of UC Irvine Health, includes 34 patient exam rooms with the latest technology and equipment, an outpatient surgery center, an optical shop and optometry services, a LASIK refractive surgery center, faculty offices and teaching spaces.

"A lot of innovation will originate here, so Orange County residents will have access to that first," said Dr. Roger Steinert, the institute's founding director. "We now have a facility that supports the talent of our faculty."

The interior design reflects recommendations made by the Braille Institute, which was consulted on the project in an effort to make navigating the building easy for vision-impaired patients.

From the carpeting to the countertops in the waiting room, nearly every detail of the building was selected with the vision-impaired in mind.

"The countertops are a specific color so people who are limited sight don't lose their papers," Steinert said.

The building also has a pediatric space with play areas, the intent of which is to make children with vision difficulties more comfortable when being examined, Steinert said.

The institute boasts state-of-the-art teaching spaces, including a wet lab that provides medical residents an area to simulate eye surgery.

"It's a good learning area," said resident Marc Yonkers. "You want to make your mistakes in the wet lab instead of on someone's eye."

UCI broke ground on the building two years ago, but the notion of an eye institute originated in the 1970s, when Allergan Inc. founder Gavin Herbert recruited ocular pharmacologist Dr. Irving Leopold to join his company. The two worked together to help create UCI's department of ophthalmology, which eventually led to the eye institute, said Tom Vasich, associate director of communications.

"It's our vision-care palace," he said. "It's taken 40 years to get this place."

The $39-million facility is the first on UCI's campus paid for entirely through local corporate, foundation and philanthropic gifts, Vasich said.

Gavin Herbert, his wife, Ninetta, and mother, Josephine, donated $10 million toward the building in 2007. Hence, the naming of the institute in his honor.

"The naming gift in 2007 really got things going for the project," Vasich said.

Other major donors include Abbott Medical Optics Inc., the Alcon Foundation, the Allergan Foundation, Julia and George Argyros, the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation, Bausch & Lomb, Esther and James Cavanaugh, the Discovery Eye Foundation, the Kratz Foundation, Marsha and Bill Link, and Kelly and Jim Mazzo.

"Our mission is to train the next generation of ophthalmologists," Vasich said.


[For the record, 11:51 a.m. Sept. 20: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Tom Vasich, associate director of communications. The last quote of the story read “our mission is to train the next generation of optometrists.” In fact, Vasich said “our mission is to train the next generation of ophthalmologists.”]

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