The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming “Party”

Recently during my annual health check, doctors found a problematic condition: gout!

What a pain in the…well, the foot. 

As a result, I’ve reined in the steak, and the champagne. So while my 20-year anniversary of the first time I attended an annual meeting of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) could have been a free-flow party with industry friends, it was instead full of early morning exercise. That meant a run at 5:30 am in Balboa Park, or shadowboxing at night in the neighborhood streets. 

So while you could call me Matty Balboa, Matt Old may be more like it. 

Nonetheless, my way of celebrating with friends at congresses is tried and true: The jacketed selfie. 

It’s wonderful to surprise my eye buddies with new conference season jacket fabrics, and to greet them with uptempo energy and a quick jacket pic is my joie de vivre… perhaps even my raison d’etre

And so on my 20th ASCRS anniversary, I thought to post our selfies together once again – which is suddenly becoming a show tradition – but for a different reason altogether. 

This time around, I’d like to honor new friendships and old; ones I’ve just made, and ones I’ve held for many years – 20 in some cases. 

So without further ado…

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Ike Ahmed

Twenty years ago, Ike wasn’t KOL famous as he is today. He was just a guy on the other end of the telephone ready and willing to be interviewed almost anytime. There was a small crew like this. Because 20 years ago, there wasn’t WhatsApp. There was a doctor’s assistant, who you needed to befriend to get an interview, to be able to write four stories that week for Friday deadline. 

Four stories, with three sources a piece, often meant 12 surgeons. And I started fresh each Monday. Can you imagine trying to get a hold of 12 surgeons, impromptu, for comment on major ophthalmic stories 20 years ago when you went through secretaries, and these docs were usually in surgery? 

I didn’t plan to stay in eye care journalism that long. It was a royal pain in the…foot. Of course, I stayed the course because eye care is awesome.

Anyways, there were very few surgeons who took a call quickly, and almost anytime. That list included Dr. John Sheppard, Dr. Bill Trattler, and Ike. Except for John, these guys are superstars today. Just kidding. I think John is at least as well off as — and with fewer irritations than — King Charles these days. 

It just goes to show, if you give people all of yourself, that’s a pay-it-forward investment that yields the best dividends. 

So, Ike is one of my few industry friends that goes all the way back 20 years in the field. Which is odd because we both still look so smashingly good, despite all the hard work (including combining forces at ASCRS to educate on Oculus Gonio ready as part of our KOL video series). Something good must have been in the ASCRS water since at least ’03. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Francis Mah

Ok, so Francis – how could I have forgotten – would have been on that same easy-to-reach list 20 years ago. And while Ike and I have aged some, Francis looks the same. 

What’s different is that Francis, instead of just being another ophthalmologist – in then Pittsburgh – now he’s living a beautiful life in La Jolla, and for good reason as Chief Medical Advisor of Kala Pharmaceuticals. God, I love how my OG eye friends have done so well for themselves!

Anyways, Francis is working on something likely to be the next hot topic after everyone stops saying AI and telemedicine in the same trendy sentence. Like me, just now. 

Biologics hold his current interest, and the possibility of what stem cells secretomes can do in healing epithelial defects. AI and telemedicine (there I go again) is great for screening, but ultimately modern biologics will have a role to play in advanced treatment. “Why not use what our body already has?” Francis asked.

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Tom Frinzi

Tom may not remember this, but about 5 years ago I sent him a LinkedIn message requesting some help on a project in Asia-Pacific. It was related to a video series we were doing about women in ophthalmology, and I thought J&J Vision had a vested interest in that topic given their reputation for supporting DE&I initiatives. Tom, Worldwide President, Surgical, Johnson & Johnson Vision at the time (and now CEO of STAAR Surgical), made a point to respond and helped support our very first project with Johnson & Johnson Vision in 2018. 

Prior to that, we had worked with predecessor Abbott Medical Optics (AMO), but J&J Vision was different. 

With his help, we launched a video series at APAO 2018 in Hong Kong about the challenges women face in Asia-Pacific ophthalmology, which was supported by J&J Vision. I was thrilled when a video by Dr. Lipika Roy in particular received more than 1,000 views on this subject, which seemed huge at the time. 

Nowadays, the topic of women in ophthalmology is stronger than ever. We have a regular column in all our magazines that speaks to this. And J&J Vision has also become one of our strongest partners in Asia-Pacific. But for us, it was Tom Frinzi who helped start it all. Now with STAAR, he’s helping to connect us once again with what that company is doing globally … once again on LinkedIn. So Tom is one of my best LinkedIn friends, starting about 5 years ago. 

Quick to respond, and always helpful and informative, Tom is what it means to be a top executive in our field absolutely in touch with his stakeholders, and in modern ways. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Devon Kennedy

Devon is literally my newest friend at ASCRS. How new? The day after ASCRS, after all was over, she invited me for coffee in San Diego’s Seaport Village to talk about the intersection of ophthalmology and optometry. 

It’s Dr. Kennedy, OD, in fact. Yes, we support the Dr. titles ourselves for O.D.s – where legal – and Devon and I had a fascinating discussion about where the relationship between ophthalmologists and optometrists is headed. 

She’s working on understanding this in America, I’m working on the same thing in APAC, and the knowledge sharing session was pretty mind-altering. No California cannabis needed for that – just incredibly good coffee and company. 

I’ll leave you with this thought about it all, and this was my shared opinion. Yes, there are sometimes skirmishes between some ophthalmologists and optometrists – and over the ability to perform minor surgeries certainly. But the fact that we have a myopia epidemic on our hands requires more cooperation than ever. And ultimately it is the disease itself, like COVID-19, that will usher in certain advancements in our industry, and not necessarily our better angels. Regardless, this is good for the industry. 

If anyone’s interested, we are holding the International Conference of Ophthalmology & Optometry (ICOO) in Da Nang, Vietnam in October – for the APAC region – and you’re welcome to come help suss these issues out further. It will be the 3rd incarnation of our CAKE & PIE Expo (C&PE 3.0), by a different name that is more to the point of our intention, to bring these groups together for the betterment of our visual field, so to speak. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Rob Anderson and Adam Angrisanio

No VIP list would be complete without my awesome comrades. Rob likens us to Guardians of the Galaxy, which I just started watching with him on our Airbnb Netflix one show night. I reserve opinion whether that’s accurate, but it sounds cool. 

Rob started with us at ESCRS in Vienna in 2018. During what turned out to be a recruiting lunch at an Italian restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam, I asked Rob if he would be willing to go to Vienna with me for work the next week, as we needed a booth attendant. He said yes, of course. I then asked him if he’d still go if he had to wear a Mozart outfit. Yes, yes he would. Up until a month or so ago he was still wearing that in his LinkedIn profile pic. Now, he’s just another ridiculously smart, incredibly wealthy, and terribly handsome suit. Or maybe just one of those things, if he’s lucky. 

And the rest is ESCRS 2018 Vienna history. I daresay we’ve come a long way, now as an Official ESCRS Digital Media Partner – thanks to Rob’s help during our meeting at Winter ESCRS in Portugal. 

Adam Angrisanio, meanwhile, came to use through his good friend Brooke Herron, our contributing editor. He’s a former Army Ranger, so suffice it to say, incredibly steadfast in his support for our mission. Thank you, Adam!

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Jeannette Bankes & Lisa Praeger

I met Jeannette, President and GM of Alcon’s Global Surgical Franchise, about a year ago during an interview for our first broadcast of MICE TV. Our world travels provided some common ground, and Jeannette had spent a lot of time in APAC, and clearly was passionate about supporting the region in ophthalmology – and also in developing nations there. 

But this ASCRS, I was touched by Jeannette’s interactions. We were at an OWL event together, in the same networking group – Group 4 – where you went around to meet people and talk about helpful leadership topics all while in group. I noticed Jeannette really getting in the mix with her group, and engaging one young woman in particular that seemed fairly new to the field. 

I’m an empath so I’m pretty sensitive to human nature. And in Jeannette’s interactions with me, and these other people at OWL, I could see how she’s both an effective executive, and salt of the earth. 

Sometimes I think in business life, conventional wisdom confuses these two things. Observed from afar and with stereotypes, corporate hierarchy can manifest itself in the imagination as elite and aloof. But I have noticed with the top leaders in our field – Jeannette, Tom, and others – the opposite is at play. An intense, warm and authentic engagement with those around is not only what makes them successful, but extremely important in advancing the humanity of our industry. 

In an age where AI is becoming omnipresent, we need leaders like this to advance not only our technology in ways that will work for the community, but will look out for the humanness of our humanity. That starts with everyday interactions.

Speaking of which, I had an everyday interaction with Lisa Praeger, General Manager, pharmaceutical and dry eye at Alcon. We had a selfie together with Jeannette and I’m really looking forward to knowing Lisa and her great smile more.

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Chuck Hess

I met Chuck through a previous client, Rob Niemietz, who worked at Synergetics before he came to Bausch & Lomb. Suffice it to say, I was at ASRS in Chicago, the year I wore race car outfits. 

The logos of Johnson & Johnson, iCare, Geuder and Med-Logics were on my race car suit, but not Bausch & Lomb. I don’t think Chuck minded. And at the point in time we met, I may have been in a prototype for my eventual blazer signature – I don’t quite recall. 

But I didn’t actually know that Chuck was a fan of our approach, until years later, when he told me on LinkedIn. Honestly, I was so very touched by his kind words. 

You have to understand, for many years at Media MICE, I was in the ophthalmic media wilderness. Some fans came to join me out in that wilderness, but it was very fringe. I was a media extremist, blowing up conventional coverage with asymmetrical warfare – costumes.

So when someone the stature of Chuck comes along and says he likes it, it’s not validation. It’s a sign from above. 

Chuck, I never told you what I thought about what you thought. But it was one of the most important moments of the company, because it gave me hope that someday we would be able to support Bausch & Lomb. And indeed that day already came some time ago. B+L has great products and we are working hand-in-hand to support them. We were stoked to recently showcase their new SeeLuma innovation in our Late Night with MICE TV program.

Thank you for your short and sweet words of encouragement, Chuck, which came at a key time. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Jugoslav Isakovic

Jugoslav (or Jugo) is another new friend I just met at ASCRS. But the feeling was warm and fuzzy from the start. First of all, the guy has a cool prop he’s lugging around –  always respect that sort of thing. 

But second, we’ve been LinkedIn friends for some time. And he mentioned he’d only meet me if I came in a funky jacket. It wasn’t a tall request. 

But it’s exchanges like that on LinkedIn that you know when you meet, something cool is going to happen. 

And it did. I learned about “The importance of maintaining a lower, more physiological IOP during cataract surgery” whitepaper, which is actually a really interesting issue we’ll be following up on. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Christian Kirchhuebel and Bob Zatarain

Bob Zataran, the CEO of Oculus USA, and I met at Club Jules Gonin in 2014. Our team was working on a Google Glass exhibition project with Bayer at the time, and Glass was pulling people out of the woodwork for chats. In this case, it pulled Bob out of the Oculus boothwork for a cool chat alongside Steffen Adamowicz, who also subsequently became a really good friend. 

The good times continued with Christian Kirchhübel alongside ESCRS Milan, where we met at one of his favorite local coffee shops. Sitting on the street sidewalk table, coffee in hand in Milan before the morning started, the conversation had an aura of: in the future, anything is possible.

Of all companies within ophthalmology, if Media MICE had a mentor, it would be Oculus. We would never look for funding a la Eyecelerator, or look to be acquired via those methods. Media MICE is built to go the distance among friends who enjoy our global lifestyle, work ethic and dedication to the mission of vision, hopefully generationally. Oculus has shown its multigenerational model to be extremely effective since 1895, and so talking to Christian is like imaging Media MICE 2123, and seeing a much better executive than myself at the helm. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
MK Raheja

We met MK during our livestream partnership with J&J Vision at APACRS 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. I subsequently kept in touch on LinkedIn and in person, and heard at ASCRS that MK is retiring soon. He is doing so in smarter fashion than NFL superstar Tom Brady, at the final peak of his career instead of the almost-peak. His smart fashion came with a smart hat, which he wore for the duration of ASCRS. There’s nothing like seeing a mature man enjoy his accomplishments, which as the head of R&D, had a major hand in J&J’s new ELITA lenticule removal device. Congrats MK. All the very best. You deserve the crème de la crème of whatever retirement cake you’re getting. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Justin Ross

My friendship with Justin is a couple years old. My friendship with his father Rod, CEO of Med-Logics, goes back many more years. 

My mother is from Texas. Rod is a Texas industry fixture. And on some level, our conversations get family-level Texas funny. 

But Justin, bless him, has to stand there while he hears his father and I go back and forth with all this Texas humor, that he probably has heard a variation of a thousand times over. And Rod and I don’t stop. The ASCRS show’s roof was about to come down and there we are, hamming it up. Ok I did find out one tidbit – that Med-Logic’s major push right now continues to be the awesomely effective and affordable microkeratome, the ML7. But I mean that’s one nugget in an entire conversation that Justin has to put up with. 

Justin, like I say. I’m glad we’re friends. I’m just sorry for your sake that I’m also friends with your father.

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Burkhard Dick

Burkhard, Secretary of the ESCRS, and I have had a lot of run-ins this year. We are almost on the same conference schedule, it seems. He was at APAO Kuala Lumpur, where he mentioned he enjoyed our team’s coverage. He was at Winter ESCRS in Portugal, where we met together along with Dr. Oliver Findl to solidify our ESCRS digital media partnership. And he was at the LENSAR booth when I walked by, and we immediately thought to connect further. So I see good times ahead with my new friend and great conference travel companion, Dr. Burkhard Dick. 

Here we are at ASCRS at the LENSAR booth, which now is doing well with the ALLY adaptive cataract treatment system. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Arun Gulani

What list would be complete without the Godfather of ophthalmic fashion himself, Dr. Arun Gulani. Arun was one of our earliest ophthalmologist supporters, and I believe knew on a deeper level that ophthalmology communication with a sense of style couldn’t go wrong. I mean, he’s living proof this is true. Nuff said. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Dr. Tanya Trinh

A glorious crew of young ophthalmologists swarmed on top of a rooftop in Milan alongside ESCRS last year. This new wave firmly changed my mind forever about what it means to have an ophthalmic personality. Previously, I thought that was always marked by the left brain mind of a scientist, steeped in research, and often less inclined to enjoy life more holistically. But these young ophthalmologists appeared to be renaissance people, worldly in conversation, able to cut loose, and still brilliant in their eye care practices. Tanya was among them, so we keep in conference touch. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Tom Ogilve-Graham

As the Managing Director of ESCRS, Tom is a new partner for us. While we signed a contract related to being ESCRS’ Digital Media Partner, I got to know Tom better at ASCRS and he’s led a varied life – the exact kind of person I thrive on being friends with. I’ve found that those with diverse life experiences, which take them down different career paths, are incredibly enlightened people. Tom was once the interim CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi; the CEO of the Order of St. John, where he also “maintained separate interest in biodiesel production from waste palm oil in Indonesia”; and the director of operations for the UK Ministry of Defense. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Euan Thomson

I first met Euan Thomson, President of Carl Zeiss Meditec Ophthalmic Devices, during an interview in which I was sitting on a bicycle with a funky jacket and virtual Amsterdam background. It was an unusual setup, and while his predecessor Jim Mazzo endured my costume antics at ZEISS press conferences, Euan was new to them. To his credit, he took everything in stride and we subsequently had interesting conversation related to his new leadership of ZEISS, technology, and future innovations.

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Jeff Francis and H.B. Pierre Simon, Jr.

Despite all the conference planning, sometimes the random conference walk is the best way to engage. I’ve known of Sight Sciences for years, and some friends are there as well as a nominal client relationship. But the dynamic suddenly changed in meeting Jeff and Pierre. We had a great conversation at Eyecelerator, which wasn’t so much about what was said, but how it was conducted. These gents are full of positive energy, which is what we at Media MICE thrive on. Author Simon Sinek says to “Start with why.” But I’d say for us it’s neither why nor what, but how. Truly, if you want to know how to leverage our capabilities, let’s start with creativity, positivity and friendship. If we can start there, we will be excellent partners, and I can already easily call Jeff and Pierre friends – which is a great start!

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Paul Smith

Paul and I have been friends on LinkedIn for some time, but Eyecelerator is when I really learned to value our relationship. Paul found my wallet on the floor of Eyecelerator. He spoke to an associate about how to get it back to me, and was reminded we’re friends on LinkedIn. So he messaged me on LinkedIn, mentioned he found it, and said he could return it asap. As President and Chief Operating Officer of Orasis Pharmaceuticals, Paul is a busy guy at Orasis, working on a proprietary form of low-dose pilocarpine to address presbyopia, as well as a preservative-free vehicle. But he took the time at an important conference for Orasis to notice a missing wallet and get it back to me immediately. I’m forgetful, but won’t be forgetting Paul’s kind act anytime soon. 

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Julie Schallhorn and Erin Powers

Erin Powers dazzled at Eyecelerator with a multicolored sequin jacket (by UGG, no less!), and I mentioned to her she has dialed it up a notch, while I dialed it down a jacket notch for America. I’ve noticed my home country prefers when I reel it in a little bit, but of course Erin is just fabulous whatever she does. Her sister Julie, associate professor and Rose B. Williams Endowed Chair in Corneal Research at the University of California, San Francisco, also kept the sequins sophisticated and has been a thoughtful interviewee in the past, which I appreciate. Erin of course is vice president, global marketing and product strategy, at BVI, and her outfit disruption must serve as a metaphor for what BVI is doing to the space, which is absolutely shaking things up. BVI has been vying to become one of the majors in the ophthalmology space, now offering consumables, equipment and IOLs, among other products globally. They’re definitely making a mark, and I’m particularly excited to see what Erin wears next. Erin, maybe we can coordinate for ESCRS…

The 25 VIPs at my 20-Year ASCRS Homecoming
Kate Hunt

Kate is a particular associate I have known for years in ophthalmology. But last RANZCO in Brisbane, Australia, we really bonded over cashew butter and halloween front yard pictures at her Nova Eye booth. Proficient Halloween front yard decor, to me, denotes a quality individual of superior character. Speaking of quality, Nova Eye provides excellent modern surgical options for glaucoma. Their omnipresence around the globe also is giving glaucoma patients new hope in many parts. So it’s a pleasure to be Kate’s show-trotting friend, where we can change the ophthalmic world, while knowing our real superpowers are put to use decorating on October 31. 

By no means is this VIP friends list exhaustive, and I took a lot more selfies with m’eye friends than what you see here. But an eye guy’s got to put the pen down sometime, and that time is now. 

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments