ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Just five minutes after cataract surgery was performed on Faith Hronek at Hillsboro Community Medical Center late last month, she gathered with the surgery team for a group photo and celebration.
Hronek was the 500th HCMC eye-surgery case performed by ophthalmologist Terria Winn of Wichita.
“The majority of our patients, we do with eye-drop anesthesia, where they don’t have to have their eye put to sleep,” Winn said. “When they’re finished, they can walk out of the operating room and see.”
Winn has been performing eye surgery once a month since she established a satellite practice with Hillsboro optometrist Paul Unruh in November 1998.
On Nov. 20, she performed the cataract surgery on Hronek of Salina.
“I think it’s wonderful that we came to that,” Winn said. “It was perfect we were having our 500th case in November on our four-year anniversary.”
Winn was born in Norton and is the mother of two teenage girls. Her husband was an engineer for Boeing for 10 years and today works as a private computer consultant.
She graduated from Colby High School in 1974 and in 1978 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in cellular biology from the University of Kansas.
“The reason I ended up at KU is I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist because I used to swim competitively, and I like science,” Winn said.
“And I loved Jacque Cousteau,” she added with a smile.
Winn found herself in classes at KU with pre-med students and during her junior year, she considered going into medicine.
To determine if she really would be happy as a physician, she worked for two summers as a nurse’s aide at a hospital in Garden City, she said.
“So by being around doctors and nurses, that’s how I made the decision I wanted to go into medical school. That made me realize I wanted to be in that core-leadership role.”
She earned her medical degree from KU in 1982 and was married the week after graduation.
Opting to specialize in ophthalmology was a major decision in her medical career, Winn said.
“I loved surgery and wanted to do that, but I think I just gravitated to a surgical field that was small, tiny and precise,” she said.
Another reason ophthalmology was attractive to her was she felt it would allow her to spend time with her family, Winn said.
“I didn’t want to feel if my child was sick and my patient was sick, I was always going to have to choose.”
After applying to about 15 internship and residency programs, she narrowed her decision to about 11.
“I went all over, but I ended up matching with a program in Houston,” Winn said. “So I was there for four years and graduated in 1986.”
She began her career in ophthalmology when she took over a three-generation solo practice.
“I took over the oldest ophthalmology practice in Wichita-back to when they practiced Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat,” Winn said.
After about nine years, she joined the Eye Clinic of Wichita and about one year later, that group merged with Greene Vision Group.
“So I went from going solo to nine doctors and then to more than 30,” Winn said. “That was a big change for me.”
Although being with a big group has its pros and cons, Winn said it’s allowed her more time with her family and more interaction with colleagues.
“That’s been a huge plus, because it was difficult to spend as much time as I wanted to with my kids, and I love to learn from my partners,” Winn said.
Her practice in Wichita includes two offices-one on Woodlawn on the east side of town and one at Central and Tyler on the west side of the city. Most of her surgery in that community is performed at Team Vision Surgery Center.
While still maintaining her two offices in Wichita, she had the opportunity to work at a satellite office for six months in McPherson. She enjoyed that experience, Winn said.
So when Unruh offered her a similar satellite opportunity, she joined him in 1998 at his office on Main Street. At that time, Unruh was in private practice, and then he later merged with Greene Vision Group.
“He’s the reason my practice has been successful here,” Winn said. “I think of all the optometrists I’ve worked with, he’s by far one of the very best.
“He takes wonderful care of his patients, his clinic is modern, and he has modern equipment. We have a great relationship, and I trust him to see the post-operative patients if I can’t be here.”
Winn schedules about 10 cataract surgeries once a month at HCMC, usually on Wednesdays and sees patients the following Thursday at the Green Vision Group office in Hillsboro.
Sometimes the patient load in Hillsboro will be too big, and her patients don’t want to wait for their surgery, or a patient needs special surgery, such as stigmatism correction, Winn said.
“So we send a limo for them here at his office and take them to Wichita to do surgery and take them back in one day,” Winn said.
“They have fun riding in the limo. Some of them, it’s the only time they’ve had a limo ride.”
When asked what is involved in cataract surgery, Winn first explained that the cataract is a clouding of the natural lens of the eye.
“Most people think it’s a growth over the surface, but it isn’t,” she said. “The lens you were born with has become clouded, so we replace it with an artificial lens.”
Winn said the cataract surgery she performs today has changed dramatically over the years she’s been in practice.
“When I started in 1986, we did big incisions and eight sutures, and most people were lucky to see the big ‘E’ on the eye chart,” Winn said. “Now, they’re reading 20/20, 20/25 and 20/30.
“We do this once a month or so and yet, we’ve had no major complications here. So I think it’s really wonderful.”
Her part of the operation takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and the entire surgery procedure takes about 20 to 25 minutes.
Winn has a team she brings with her to Hillsboro, including Barb Perry, a certified ophthalmology technician, who has been with her for 10 years.
“She’s my first assistant in surgery,” Winn said. “And then I bring Janell Davis, Brady Kensinger and sometimes, we’ll bring an additional person with us if our schedule is really packed.”
Certified technicians from a group called American Eye Instruments provide most of the equipment needed for her cataract surgery at HCMC, Winn said.
“They call themselves truck drivers, but they actually do a lot more.”
Those technicians, such as Phil Martinez, are hired by HCMC to bring microscopes, surgical instruments, lenses and a laser.
“It’s just everything we literally need for the surgery, except for a few things the hospital provides for us,” Winn said.
Martinez has worked with Winn for about two years.
“I think the patients speak for her abilities and skills,” Martinez said. “They think she’s wonderful. She has an excellent personality.”
Also part of Winn’s surgery team are Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Bob Reese and Brian Haney.
“And Arlene Hett, who lives in Hillsboro, she works for me because she loves what she does,” Winn said. “She’s an amazing person.”
And does Winn like providing a service for the Hillsboro community?
Yes, she said, because some people are afraid of going beyond the community.
“They’ll say, ‘I’ll stop driving, because I’m not going to go into Wichita.'”
Many patients put cataract surgery off for a year because they’re so frightened, but once it’s done, they wonder why they waited so long to do it, she said.
And what gives Winn a sense of satisfaction at the end of her work day?
“Just the happy patients,” she said. “I’ll go in and see them and they’ll say, ‘This wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I can already see.’
“So you get that immediate effect, which is wonderful.”