Anna Caplan 2017-08-29 06:19:13
Seeing EyeDoc A 7-year-old Boston terrier named Charlie lies motionless on the operating table, her eyes bugged out — maybe a bit more so than usual this morning. At the head of the table, bent over the dog, is a man dressed in scrubs and highlighter Nikes. He peers into a heavy-duty microscope as the drone of the heart monitor reverberates throughout the sunlit room. Dr. Brian Cichocki finishes removing a small benign tumor from the dog’s eyelid and flicks a final cotton swab into a trash can. He turns to a visitor and sums up the 15-minute operation in one word: “Perfect.” It’s 9:05 a.m., and before many of us have poured a second cup of coffee, the Cowtown native is doing truly eye-opening work at his ophthalmic practice: diagnosing, treating and operating on furry, nonverbal and arguably the cutest patients known to man. Over the past two years, legions of dogs and cats have come through the doors of Texas Veterinary Ophthalmology in southwest Fort Worth. Pet owners looking for specialists have limited choices. “There are only five options in the Metroplex, including me,” says the boyish-looking 33-year-old. It’s why he chose to set up shop in Fort Worth. Numbers aside, the vet revels in how gratifying his work is. But how does he know the animals are having trouble seeing? Besides the usual tip-offs — cloudy or weepy eyes — Cichocki relies on a body-wide analysis, taking in a patient’s symptoms before identifying and tackling the problem. Intuition and a keen sense of observation are needed, since his patients can’t speak. “It forces you to be a better diagnostician,” he says. The same story, different verse, could be told about his dad, Dr. Jonathan Cichocki, a longtime Fort Worth ophthalmologist. That the elder Cichocki influenced his son to pursue his specialty — albeit with animals — is a given. Cichocki has always loved animals, and having a dad as a physician granted him an up-close look at the industry. He recognized at an early age that treating humans was not for him. He appreciates that the most enjoyable aspect to what he has chosen to do is that there is seldom a negative outcome. “It’s a positive specialty,” he says. “We never have to euthanize.” School was rigorous, including specialty training at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine (he attended Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth and is a Texas A&M vet school grad). At Georgia, he did two oneyear internships in small animals and ophthalmology, followed by a three-year ophthalmology residency. Today, he treats cats and dogs (he makes house calls for horses) inside his clinic, which is located inside the Fort Worth Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in southwest Fort Worth. Cichocki describes it as “a mall, of sorts,” a reference to the wide range of services it offers, from emergency medicine to oncology to internal medicine, all in a state-of-the-art facility. He loves the collegial environment and how other vets consult with him when their patients have eye issues. Today, Charlie is looking for relief from her eye tumor, so Cichocki focuses his attention on the intubated dog, splayed on her back in front of him. Seated on a stool, he peers into a Luxor LX3 operating microscope made by Fort Worth-based Alcon, a global company specializing in eye-care products. Cichocki is the first and, so far, the only veterinary ophthalmologist in the world to use this high-tech equipment. Thanks to his dad’s connections, Alcon’s proximity to the clinic and the fact that Cichocki worked at the company during his summers of vet school, the scope was made available for his practice. It’s designed to ensure that the surgeon is never flying blind with his instruments. Instead, Cichocki glides the operating tools effortlessly over the dog’s eye, deftly removing the small tumor, then meticulously drawing sutures to mend the eyelid, careful to align the ridge so that it is smooth and keeps its original integrity. Cichocki describes it as having a “unique illumination system” that reflects light back from the retina. Transitioning to operating with it is the equivalent of going from standard TV to HD, he says. It will take Charlie about 10 days, but the terrier can expect a full recovery. Fitted with a special collar to keep her from rubbing her eyes, the pup slowly wakes from surgery, at first slightly groggy, then eager to reclaim any time lost on the table. For Cichocki, there’s a full day of appointments ahead — he often arrives at work around 7 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 6 p.m. or after — before he returns home to his own canine, an Italian greyhound named Ernie. He may miss Ernie while he’s working, but in two short years Cichocki has forged loving, forever bonds with so many dogs and cats, it’s hard to keep count. Patty Lewallen’s Boston terrier Baby Bug had corneal ulcers and couldn’t be treated near her home in Granbury; they were referred to Cichocki for further treatment. Despite the eye being described as “dented and crushed,” Baby Bug’s operation was a resounding success. “He not only saved [Baby Bug’s] eye, her vision was saved as well and is only slightly less than perfect,” Lewallen says. “Brian is a remarkable ophthalmologist, and we would recommend him to anyone we ever find in need of his skills.” After Charlie’s procedure is complete, staffers move him to recovery, readying him to go home with his relieved owner. As the vet walks out, Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” can be heard in the hallway outside the surgery suite: “I need a hero/I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night.” To grateful owners, heroes often wear scrubs, not capes. Anna Caplan is a freelance writer who is not squeamish about watching eye surgery.
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