Paul B. Freeman, O.D., honored with top AOA low vision/vision rehabilitation award

July 6, 2022
The Dr. Jerry P. Davidoff Vision Care Award is given annually to a doctor of optometry who is active in a clinical vision rehabilitation practice setting; has committed to giving back to optometry through the education of other practitioners; and has demonstrated a long-standing contribution and shared knowledge with fellow practitioners for the betterment of vision rehabilitation eye care.
Dr. Jerry P. Davidoff Vision Care Award

Paul B. Freeman, O.D., recipient of the Dr. Jerry P. Davidoff Vision Care Award, is flanked by Janis Winters, O.D., chair of the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Committee on the left and Michael Epp, Envision University manager of professional education, on the right.

Early in his career, Paul B. Freeman, O.D., found himself examining and evaluating a child who had been told there was nothing that could be done to help her see.

“Being a new graduate, armed with my optometric education, and some new-graduate bravado, and not yet being influenced by the concept that ‘nothing more could be done visually,’ I was able to help her to see by assessing her both optically and functionally,” Dr. Freeman recalls. Initially, he worked with relative near magnification and the appropriate lenses, and once Dr. Freeman was able to identify and interpret targets, he then worked with her educational team to use that as the basis for perceptual motor skills for near and then distance learning. “From that point on, I did not embrace the idea that nothing more could be done,” he adds.

Dr. Freeman’s non-fatalistic viewpoint, developed and deepened over a long career, underpins why he was presented the Dr. Jerry P. Davidoff Vision Care Award during the Vision Rehabilitation Forum June 16 at the 2022 Optometry's Meeting® in Chicago.

The award, presented by the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Committee, goes to an individual who is active in a clinical vision rehabilitation practice setting; has committed to giving back to optometry through the education of other practitioners; and has demonstrated a long-standing contribution and shared knowledge with fellow practitioners for the betterment of vision rehabilitation eye care. Dr. Davidoff was a dedicated volunteer, passionate about vision rehabilitation and committed to educating and mentoring the next generation of doctors of optometry. He died from cancer in 2011.

“We are proud to present the Davidoff Award to Dr. Freeman,” Janis Winters, O.D., chair of the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Committee, says. “Dr. Freeman’s commitment over many years to optometry is demonstrated through the many ways he has and continues to serve our profession. He is a well-deserving recipient of this honor.”

“Having been a practicing optometrist since 1974, I am grateful for the many opportunities and the privilege to have served, and continue to serve, these patients and my profession by trying to make sure that ‘nothing more can be done visually’ is not part of anyone’s lexicon and thought process,” says Dr. Freeman, who is head of low vision rehabilitation services at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and provides low vision rehabilitation services at Keystone Blind Association in Hermitage, Pennsylvania; Beaver County Association for the Blind in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; and is involved in vision programs throughout western Pennsylvania’s school districts.

Dr. Freeman talks about what he’s learned over his long career.

What does it mean to you to win the Davidoff Award?

The award recognizes a low vision practitioner who has extended low vision rehabilitative care to visually impaired patients not only through clinical management but also by sharing knowledge with other practitioners so that their patients might have the same opportunity to experience low vision rehabilitation management. I have been fortunate in my professional career to have had numerous opportunities to lecture, to publish and to mentor practitioners all over the world, in an effort to do just that. I am proud to say that I knew Jerry most of his professional career as a good friend and colleague, and I’m certain that he would have approved of the meaning of this award, and hopefully that he would have approved of me getting it as well.

After 48 years, what have you loved so much about your career in low vision/vision rehabilitation?

I enjoy providing low vision rehabilitation because, I believe, it defines the best of optometry. It requires an understanding and practical application of optics and visual function, as well as pathology. It requires a practitioner to evaluate and manage fragile patients, to do so compassionately, and to enhance the quality of life that many of these patients, regardless of age, feel they might never have achieved, or reinstate quality of life that has been lost.

What should other doctors know about low vision care?

Health care practitioners, especially eye care professionals, should never use the phrase “nothing more can be done.” Losing vision does not have the same endpoint as a terminal illness; something can always be done to help patients maximize what they have, or understand and come to terms with how to function better from the loss with the help of an integrated interdisciplinary team which includes eye care practitioners (both optometrists and ophthalmologists), orientation and mobility specialists, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, educators, vocational rehabilitative specialists and others.

You’ve spent your career sharing your accumulated knowledge with patients, students and other doctors. In 1991, you co-wrote one of the seminal books on low vision, “The Art and Practice of Low Vision.” Why?

Over the years that I have been involved with low vision rehabilitation, I have developed a sequence of assessment and training steps which allowed me, as well as those who I have had the opportunity to mentor, to systematically help visually impaired individuals, regardless of age, to maximize use of their vision with and/or without low vision devices. My friend and mentor, Dr. Randy Jose, suggested that I put this information into a book and so, with him, we developed the “Art and Practice of Low Vision.” To quote Eleanor Faye, M.D., a renowned low vision practicing ophthalmologist who wrote the forward to our book, “If we direct the examination, instruction, and prescription toward helping the patient adjust, we are fulfilling the goal of vision rehabilitation.”

What’s your message to all doctors of optometry?

The population is aging, fragile infants are being saved due to the “miracle of modern medicine,” and people with systemic conditions that heretofore would have succumbed are living longer lives, sometimes with vision loss being one of the unanticipated consequences. Doctors of optometry are uniquely qualified, based on their in-depth understanding of optics, function and pathologies, to use their knowledge to guide and assist visually impaired patients in working toward maximizing quality of life. My message to all health care practitioners is to query visually impaired patients and their family members about quality of life, and to always mention low vision rehabilitative options, so that the patient, not the practitioner, can decide whether to avail themselves of those services. Each one of us will someday know someone who is visually impaired, or will become visually impaired ourselves, and will want to know that these services are available.”

Envision University, a long-term supporter of the AOA’s vision rehabilitation work, supports the AOA's Dr. Jerry P. Davidoff Vision Care Award. Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC, supported the Vision Rehabilitation Forum at 2022 Optometry's Meeting.

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