Making A Visible Difference

By Valerie T. Ishihara
Wednesday - June 22, 2005
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The Laser Eye Center of Hawaii staff and a handful of their
panel doctors

If you asked me 10 years ago if I knew what I was getting into when I accepted the administrator’s position at the brand new Laser Eye Institute of Hawaii (now known as the Laser Eye Center of Hawaii) I would have said no. I would have told you that I was really excited to learn about the new technology that was being introduced — to be able to see without glasses or contacts. Wow, it was like a dream come true! I started wearing glasses in the fourth grade and was thrilled to be a part of a new era in vision correction.

Starting a company from scratch was a new thing for me. I had formerly worked as an administrative officer at the University of Hawaii and had no experience in running a business. I knew it was going to be hard work, but that would not pose a problem for me. My parents had taught by example and had instilled in me the values of a strong work ethic, having consideration for others and working cooperatively for the common good. Together, my parents worked hard for the sake of family and dad showed me that caring made all the difference in the world. So I wasn’t worried about this new job because I knew that I had it in me to make things work.

Although the new company was partially owned by a corporation in Oklahoma, I was given the task to set up the first freestanding laser center in the nation here in Hawaii. I was the very first employee. I remember being in a temporary office on the 14th floor of the Pan Am Building — all by myself, down the hall from where our new suite was being built. All I knew was that the first excimer laser was going to be approved by the FDA shortly and we were going to be one of the first in the country to acquire it. Our board president, Dr. Dennis Kuwabara, had organized a group of 60 independent optometrists and ophthalmologists to be involved with the center, two of whom would be our surgeons. Today, we have 114 affiliate eye doctors who are on four major islands. Each doctor is credentialed and specially trained to care for laser vision correction patients. Our surgeons, Dr. Tyrie Lee Jenkins and Dr. Carlos Omphroy, have been with us since day one and are the most experienced laser refractive surgeons in Hawaii with nearly 15,000 procedures performed.


We built this company from the ground up with “Teamwork” as our motto. The thread that ties us together is our emphasis on comprehensive, qualityfocused laser vision correction for patients. When you become a patient at the Laser Eye Center of Hawaii, you don’t have one great mind working on your case, you get a team of expert doctors working for you. Our 114 affiliate doctors each run their own eye care practices and are specially trained to perform the pre-operative and post-operative care for LASIK and PRK. This is great for Neighbor Island patients who can receive most of their care at home. These doctors work closely with our director of Laser Vision Services, Dr. Jacqueline Ueda, and with our surgeons. Together, this team ultimately comes up with the best possible treatment for each patient.

With our success, the Oklahoma corporation tried to model additional centers on the Mainland after us. None was successful, and eventually all of them closed down. In 2001, the original group of 60 eye doctors bought out the corporation from Oklahoma. As a completely locally owned company, we renamed the business Laser Eye Center of Hawaii.

We found that being able to work together is unique to Hawaii and the main reason why we have survived and our counterparts on the Mainland have not. A strong sense of “ohana” can definitely be felt at the Laser Eye Center of Hawaii. Working together, thinking about what’s best for every patient and giving from the heart is what our center is all about. From doctors to staff members, we share this same philosophy and I am very lucky to have found a place with the same values that I have been raised with.

It’s a philosophy that drives us to give back to our neighbors in the community. We have sponsored such events as the Hawaii Modular Space Molokai canoe races and the Junior League of Honolulu’s Her Story Conference. Three years ago we created a gallery in the center for local artists to showcase and sell their work. Our Art of Vision Gallery allows patients and the public to treat their “vision” to the beauty and talent of local artists and their works of art.

They say things trickle down from the top, and our board president and officers have set the tone for how the company should be run. I am very grateful to Dr. Kuwabara for giving me a chance 10 years ago.

Ten years ago it was the new technology I was excited about. Superior technology is vital to what we do, but I’ve learned that the difference is in people. Something magical happens when you put the best technology in the hands of people who care. It’s the power of people making a visible difference.

Next week: Gail Mukaihata Hannemann, CEO of the Girl Scout Council

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