Yoshihiro Yonekawa, MD on Lobster, Laughing, and Never Losing
As interviewed by Audina Berrocal, MD
What makes you love retina?
We perform elegant, precise, and creative surgeries that have a huge impact on our patients’ quality of life, and we continue to be at the forefront of medicine in many disciplines. I also love the people who make up our global community.
Why did you choose pediatric retina? Or did it choose you?
Pediatric retina is tough. We treat complex eyes in vulnerable patients with various systemic illnesses. The medicolegal risk is real, and the surgeries carry a high risk and are technically challenging. Why would any sane person do this? I tried not liking it, but I couldn’t stop loving it.
From the fascinating pathophysiology of pediatric vitreoretinopathies, to seeing the eye wall snap free when cutting persistent fetal vasculature stalks, to saving a premature infant’s vision for his or her upcoming 100 years of life, to maximizing our creativity in planning surgery to deconstruct tractional vectors, to the burning sense of purpose shared by all pediatric retina surgeons, to the urgency of the global epidemic of retinopathy of prematurity, to telling a mother that her baby is going to be able to see—it’s all so worthwhile. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
What are your hobbies outside of retina?
I have an amazing wife and three wonderful boys who inspire me every day. We always move together as a big herd, and my wife and I love watching the kids make new discoveries and overcome their fears.
What is the hardest moment you have had in your career?
Trying to stop laughing when Royce W.S. Chen, MD, impersonated R.V. Paul Chan, MD, MSc, at the 2017 Vit-Buckle Society meeting.
How would you compare adult surgical retina to pediatric surgical retina?
To paraphrase a famous movie character, pediatric retina is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get. No word in “standard three-port pars plana vitrectomy” is applicable; it can be two-port or three-port. Depending on the anatomy, we enter the eye through the limbus, iris root, pars plicata, or pars plana; we do tons of buckles; we don’t flatten the retina with brute force as in adults but, instead, partner with the retinal pigment epithelium’s pumping mechanism; the anatomic proportions are different; we use unique instruments and viewing systems; we drain externally rather than internally; etc. The rule books are complementary but different.
What are your favorite things to do in the Boston area?
Local favorites, especially for families: canoeing down the Charles River, eating lobster sandwiches at Alive and Kicking in Cambridge, watching planes touch down from Coughlin playground in Winthrop, visiting the Animal Adventures rescue center in Bolton, and enjoying ginger and scallion lobster in Chinatown.
How do you think you will change the field of retina?
I can’t change anything on my own, but, together with great colleagues at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Boston Children’s Hospital, we are identifying previously uncharacterized retinal findings in pediatric diseases, investigating new therapeutic targets, considering how best to deconstruct complex tractional detachments in children, and working on new approaches to surgery. My overarching goal is to improve awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of pediatric retinal disease. Hopefully, we can make meaningful contributions for our patients.
Who has shaped who you are as a physician and surgeon?
My father, who worked for the United Nations and is now a Buddhist monk, and his father, an elementary school principal, used to tell me and my two brothers as children growing up in Queens, N.Y., that we should pursue whatever profession we want, but just make sure that it was about helping people.
I’m very fortunate to have been trained and inspired by amazing mentors during my time at Weill Cornell Medical College, my residency at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and my fellowship at Associated Retinal Consultants/William Beaumont Hospital. I continue to be shaped by our wonderful pediatric retina community (including you, Nina, all the time) and by new mentors as I work with societies and editorial boards.
Tell me something about yourself that no one in ophthalmology knows.
My wife and I met when we were 7 years old, and we used to beat each other up practicing a Japanese martial art called Kendo. Neither of us can recall ever losing to the other.
The most exciting surgical moment you have had?
There is never a dull moment in the OR, especially on pediatric days, and the excitement is particularly high when I do combined surgeries with my pediatric cornea and pediatric glaucoma colleagues. You know there is a complex eye in the room when the three groups of us are operating together with all of our fellows, residents, and observers!
From the BMC Archive
Christina Weng, MD, MBA, on tenacity, teleretina, and truffled egg salad
An Interview with Christina Weng, MD, MBA New Retina MD Volume 8, Issue 2
Find online at: bit.ly/Weng1217
Section Editor Audina Berrocal, MD
• professor of clinical ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami, Miami, Fla.
Yoshihiro Yonekawa, MD
• pediatric and adult vitreoretinal surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear; director of pediatric retina surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School; both in Boston, Mass.