Tom Tayeri, MD ’90 : Preventing and reversing blindness overseas
In his third year of medical school at UCSF, Tom Tayeri, MD ’90, completed a rotation that would mark the beginning of his career in ophthalmology.
“I can still remember what it felt like when I watched that first cataract operation,” he recalls. “It was magical. Here was someone without sight, and this simple, elegant operation removed the cause of their blindness and enabled them to see.”
Following this rotation and the remainder of his time at UCSF, Tayeri completed his residency at Stanford University and his subspecialty training in glaucoma at California Pacific Medical Center. In 1995, he started a solo ophthalmology practice in Palo Alto where he focused on treating glaucoma and cataracts. Fast-forward 25 years, and the practice has grown tremendously, now employing two other glaucoma specialists and an optometrist.
Early in his career, Tayeri also became involved with SEE International, which gave him the opportunity to perform sight-restoring operations in the developing world and train local surgeons in those countries. He had long been interested in improving access to health care for people who are underserved, and his experiences particularly in Kenya and India demonstrated the immense need for improved eye services in such areas.
In 2010, the sheer magnitude of the problem and the desire to do more led Tayeri and his wife, Lisa, to establish the Fiat Lux Foundation, whose mission is to prevent and reverse blindness in developing countries. “My instinct to give back and help those in need was nurtured by many of my professors at UCSF,” Tayeri says. “They showed me by example that we have a duty to help the most vulnerable members of society. In fact, the Fiat Lux Foundation name was inspired by the University of California’s motto: ‘Let there be light’.”
Fiat Lux partners with local ophthalmologists to build sustainable eye-treatment centers in underserved areas. “At first, our goal was to provide equipment to the hospitals I’d worked with in India and Kenya,” Tayeri says. “Once those efforts were successful, we expanded our scope and helped build Kisii Eye Hospital in Kenya, which opened in 2013.”
Kisii has since gained a reputation as an ophthalmic center of excellence. Last year, doctors at the hospital conducted more than 32,000 outpatient exams and 3,000 operations. The Fiat Lux Foundation has also donated equipment and supplies to the Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology and the Tarabai Desai Eye Hospital in India, and is currently supporting a new project in Mozambique modeled after the Kisii Eye Hospital.
“Sustainability is key in everything we do,” Tayeri says. “We strive to create an infrastructure at each of these sites that not only allows local providers to see more patients but also helps the facility contribute to the local economy and become financially independent.”
“It is immensely gratifying that our work has been noticed with this Campaign Alumni Award,” he notes. “I know how many patients and communities we have impacted with our efforts, and this recognition means more than I can say.”
Tom Tayeri won a 2020 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Compassionate” category. The award honors those whose work is marked by boundless empathy, understanding, and caring within health care or science.