Helping Others is the Goal
New Orleans Living Magazine
By Maria Muro
The newest member of the LSU Healthcare Network physician team, Dr. Lena Al-Dujaili, just wrapped up her fellowship in glaucoma and anterior segment surgery last month.
One huge advantage to seeing a new glaucoma surgeon is that the field of ophthalmic surgery is rapidly evolving. Dr. Al-Dujaili is experienced in new micro-invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIG) that weren’t even being taught five years ago.
“It’s changing the way people face glaucoma,” Dr. Al-Dujaili says. “The recovery period with these surgeries is a lot better and so much faster.”
Recovery from a traditional glaucoma surgery can take up to two months, but, with MIG, the improvement is usually within a day to a week later. “It’s a huge difference in vision recovery,” she says. Not everyone qualifies for MIG, she says, but for the mild to moderate glaucoma sufferers who do, the surgery has been a big relief.
At the LSU Eye Center, Dr. Al-Dujaili joins program chairman Jayne Weiss, M.D.; retina specialist Maria Reinoso, M.D.; cornea specialist Maria Bernal, M.D.; general ophthalmologists Lisa Dang, M.D., and Candace Collins, M.D.; and ocuplastics specialist, Michael Worley, M.D., among others. She knows she will feel right at home with the group, which has been quite welcoming.
“All the physicians who work for LSU are very caring,” Dr. Al-Dujaili says. “Everyone works together very well to practice a really good standard of care in medicine. And LSU in general is very supportive of patient care and its physicians.”
Dr. Al-Dujaili’s glaucoma focus is in high demand for New Orleans (and the region) due to the aging population and the higher incidence of the disease in Hispanic and African American populations. She said that during her residency at LSU, she saw the need, especially among the under- and uninsured. It motivated her to want to help and she will now be spending three days per month at University Medical Center and two days per month at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge training residents and offering surgery for that population. She is one of only two local glaucoma physicians willing to do so.
Two other motivators were her parents. Her father had corneal transplants when she was a child and her mother had leukemia. “I originally thought I was going in to medicine to practice oncology,” she says. Either way, it was less about the career and more about helping others.
“I was better in science than in art, yes, but I was more drawn to the human side of medicine,” Dr. Al-Dujaili says. “The thought was always how I could help people.”
Ophthalmology is complicated: “Eyes are very different from anything you learn in medical school,” Dr. Al-Dujaili says. “When I went in to my residency, I didn’t anticipate how much I would be learning … whole new systems and the anatomy behind it … the genetics of disease … it was like going through medical school all over again. Even my husband (a physician and hospitalist at East Jefferson) has trouble understanding when I try to explain it to him.”
Was it worth it?: “I really enjoy ophthalmology,” she says. “Especially when you do cataracts surgery, you feel this instant gratification. And with glaucoma, you stop or slow the vision loss and that feels great too.” On high school career day: “When I had to go shadow someone, I automatically picked medicine,” she says. Patient care strong suit: “I’m very outgoing, and what I’m going to try to do for best patient care is listen to the patient to see what issues and needs they have and offer the best treatment for their eye condition,” Dr. Al-Dujaili says.
That one patient who confirms her life choice: “We all have the stories of the patient that came in almost blind and after surgery was able to see again,” she says. “Mine was a young guy, in his early 40’s with diabetic cataracts. He couldn’t even work anymore. After both eyes were done, he was so happy and couldn’t stop thanking me. That’s what’s made me feel great about my choice. With glaucoma, you risk losing a lot of vision, so slowing the progression of the disease is also gratifying.”
Lena Al-Dujaili, M.D.
LSU Healthcare Center
3700 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA
Medical School: LSU
Residency: LSU, Ophthalmology
Fellowship: Tulane University, Glaucoma and
Anterior Segment Surgery