Deep Family Roots Inspire Innovation, Community-Minded Vision

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With my father being a forester and my mother a nurse, you could say the woods and patient care are in my blood. Both themes are woven throughout my life, culminating now as I find ways to support my peers during this pandemic.

Establishing Roots
I met my future wife in karate class in grade school—being so young, our interactions were often met with a competitive edge that resulted in a less-than-friendly relationship. Lo and behold, after a few years of well-needed separation, we were reunited in high school and began dating. We attended our undergraduate years and optometry school together, and now we’re married with a private practice, a frame company, and three beautiful children!

After optometry school, my wife and I returned home to the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan to start our practice. We love the community deep in the north woods where we grew up. The Upper Peninsula is bounded by three Great Lakes and dense pine forests, the scenery is pristine, and each of the four seasons is exquisite. Most of all, we love the people. Our fellow natives, or “Yoopers,” are a wonderful group of individuals. You won’t find caring people like them anywhere else, and we are delighted that they are our patients.

Changing My Definition of Success
Prior to 2020, my definition of success centered around my practice—how well we were doing, where we ranked in the community. That all changed last year. In early 2020, my 21-month-old daughter almost passed away due to complications from bacterial pneumonia. After three nights in the local hospital, she developed a life-threatening empyema, or bacterial pleural effusion. Progressing within hours, this aggressive development meant she needed to be airlifted to Children's Wisconsin - Milwaukee Hospital where she underwent multiple surgeries. Once she was stable, we had to make the difficult decision to have my wife stay at the hospital with her for the next month while I returned home to be with our two other children and maintain our private practice to care for our patients.

In March, while my family was confronted with our daughter’s hospitalization, COVID became prominent in our country. When the shutdown occurred, I immediately sent staff home, utilizing PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds to continue paying them, and the practice became a one-person shop. Like many of my colleagues, I went in every day to see or speak to patients in need of emergency care, ensuring they felt comfortable and confident that their needs were met. When we reopened, we applied for and received a VSP Global COVID-19 Patient Care Program grant that assisted us in obtaining much-needed personal protection equipment (PPE) to keep our patients and staff safe. VSP and the VSP Global Premier Program have provided many benefits for our practice, from increased visibility to enhanced savings for both the practice and our patients. The grant was simply one more way that VSP has demonstrated their commitment to private practice doctors like us.

Over these difficult months, my priorities and my definition of success quickly shifted to keeping my daughter, my family, and my patients healthy and safe. That became the most important thing—more important than absolutely anything else.

Cultivating My Family Roots
Being part of such a tight-knit professional community, it was important to me during the pandemic to also reach out to my peers to see if I could help. A few years ago, my wife and I established UpLand Eyewear, a line of handcrafted wooden eyeglass frames. UpLand was created as a means of paying homage to my father, a retired forester, who along with my mother, lives off the grid in the woods in a log cabin they built with me and my brothers. Through the process of building our frame company, I developed several contacts in manufacturing and distribution. In response to the pandemic, I was able to call on those contacts to procure large quantities of PPE and distribute it to eye care providers who desperately needed it when they returned to patient care. As I see it, we are all in this together—when we build each other up, we all become stronger.

Flourishing in the Future
Inspired by the VSP Global COVID-19 Patient Care Program and the genuine heartfelt response from the clinics we provided PPE, we have also chosen to show our appreciation to those who supported us in our time of need. Beginning in January of 2021, $10 of every UpLand frame sold is being donated to children’s hospitals across the country that continue to save the lives of children like our daughter every day.

Unfortunately, situations like the pandemic and family crisis are going to happen—though hopefully not often. It doesn’t seem fair and it’s not. But, seeing my tiny daughter’s incredible strength, the response from our patients when we reopened, and the way so many of us have pulled together to help one another this past year, assures me that we can get through anything—as a profession, as a society, and as human beings.

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