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Why I’m a Frequent Flyer

My Instagram biography (https://www.instagram.com/prof.farhad.hafezi/) describes me as “Professor. Eye surgeon. Innovator. Father. Frequent Flyer.” Let’s explore what the last of those terms means for the first four items in that list.

In the space of just over one week in the month of May, I traveled from Switzerland to Finland to India and back to Switzerland in the space of 4 days. That’s a lot of flying, but I believe it was completely worth it. My first port of call was Turku in Finland to the Finnish Society For Cataract and Refractive Surgery (FSCRS) Spring Meeting, where I spoke to the assembled audience about expanding using cross-linking to treat keratoconus and infectious keratitis, and how to treat keratoconus in pediatric and low-compliant patients. I managed to enjoy not only a warm welcome but also some excellent discussions. But soon afterward, I found myself leaving Finland on a flight to Bangalore to attend the Clinix meeting, run by Narayana Nethralaya.

The Clinix meeting – much like the CXL Experts’ Meeting in Zurich in December – attracts some of the biggest names in the field to be speakers. I was delighted to be able to speak about “Navigating the Sea of Cross-Linking Protocols”, addressing the many riboflavin and UV-illumination profile options for cross-linking in children, people with thin corneas, and again, low-compliant patients. It can be quite a dilemma, but the combination of a long experience with cross-linking, and ELZA’s research work into the basic science of cross-linking and cross-linking thin corneas has given us a unique insight into this, and it’s great to be able to present this to such a high caliber audience at the meeting. Then it was back to Switzerland for a few days before… a quick flight to Rome to attend the 150th-anniversary meeting of the Società Oftalmologica Italiana – the Italian Society of Ophthalmology to take about the role of oxygen in cross-linking. I’m currently writing this sitting in an airport departure lounge on the way to the East-West International Conference on Ophthalmology in Ufa, Russia, to give a talk on Cross-Linking Technologies and their Practical Application, and to lead a wet lab, where we are teaching ophthalmologists how to cross-link by using pig eyes, and we do it with our new C-Eye cross-linking light source. 

The C-Eye device is a big deal for a number of reasons (it enables surgeons to cross-link in their office at a slit lamp, rather than in an operating room, making the procedure much more convenient and far less expensive, potentially opening up cross-linking to more people around the world, and hopefully expand its use developing countries too for the treatment of corneal ectasia and infections). But in this case, the hallelujah moment is the fact that it’s small, battery powered and portable. It’s so much easier to transport one C-Eye device than it is to transport one traditional cross-linking light source!

So innovation at ELZA, UZH, and Light for Sight doesn’t stop with the clinical and laboratory research work we’re presenting at the conferences. Everything we do has a singular focus: to improve patient care. Whether it’s establishing the fundamentals of cross-linking to improve how it’s performed (e.g. our oxygen and pulsed light research), how best to improve post-CXL vision with a laser (our work with SCHWIND to develop post-CXL tissue laser ablation algorithms), bringing new approach to treat corneal infections that could work without the need for antibiotics (PACK-CXL), developing more sophisticated and individualized ways of cross-linking thin corneas, or putting together best-practice models to help give low-compliant patients (like children with learning disabilities) the treatment they need in the calmest and stress-free manner possible. So the Professor part results in the innovation part, which informs and improves the eye surgery I perform on my surgical days in the clinic.

And what about my carbon footprint? Like most of my fellow Swiss, the environment is something I care about deeply, and I reuse and recycle as much as I can, grow vegetables in my garden, and am very conscious of my carbon footprint. I rationalise my travel in three ways. First, I believe the benefits  outweigh the costs. Stopping people from losing vision and even going blind thanks to corneal cross-linking is important, and spreading the technique and ensuring it’s done optimally is vital for it being a success. Sometimes presentations can be pre-recorded or given via a webcam, but other times – especially when there are committee meetings or wet labs to give – there’s little alternative to being present in person. Having said that, I think I’m part of the last generation that will need to regularly get on a plane and travel great distances to deliver these talks.

Which leaves me, last, but not least, with “father”. I’m a lucky man to have a wonderfully supportive wife, Nikki, who is my partner in everything, both at work and at home. We structure our working lives around our children (who are the light of my life), and we move heaven and earth to have family dinners together, and if it’s a long day in terms of work (as happens to everyone once in a while), it gets paused until the children have gone to bed. And if you saw me last weekend, you would have been in Europapark in Rust in Germany, taking my daughters around the rides and (for the older ones, at least) roller coasters at this theme park in the sun. Sometimes, life doesn’t get better than that!

 

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