Dr. Marietta Nelson

Ophthalmologist and Pediatrician

With a passion for broader health issues, Dr. Nelson has been a delegate for the American Medical Association for more than a decade, a past president of the Nevada State Medical Association and was recently appointed to a two-year term on the Southern Nevada Health District board. Nelson, who graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1979, has practiced in the Valley for 27 years and runs the Eye Clinic of Las Vegas. Here are the highlights from her recent interview with Paul Szydelko:

I was the 14th ophthalmologist to come to town. Now we have about 90, but we need more.

When I was doing my pediatric residency, I did an ophthalmology rotation and I was assisting at surgery, not doing much really. The guy had a totally white cornea from an industrial accident—both eyes blind for months. He got a cornea transplant, the most dramatic thing we do. The next morning, we took the bandage off, and he started crying because he could see. I said, whoa, this is great. You take one off and put another on from a cadaver donor and then sew it on with 16 stitches. I said it’s like home-ec; I can do embroidery.

I see half peds and half adults. They might come in with an injury, topical eye infections, glaucoma, cataract-macular degeneration in adults, congenital abnormalities in children or misalignment of the eyes, poor vision in one or both eyes.

Because we can now do so many things, the expectations are almost too high. We can treat macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, genetic retinal diseases or optic nerve diseases, but there’s no cure. That’s a great disappointment to them as it is to us.

One advance in the past five years is a special imaging technique that can show you the 10 layers of the retina and the optic nerve, and it helps us diagnose a lot of things that we couldn’t even see before. We never thought we’d have anything like this.

I’m kind of known as the doctor in Nevada who doesn’t like Lasik. It’s not that I don’t like it; I wouldn’t have it done. I’m a good candidate—very nearsighted. To me it’s an unnecessary risk to take cutting into your eyes.

One challenge is explaining something very complex [when] you want to get across the importance of doing it. Let’s say something as simple as patching one eye to improve the vision in the other. What reasonable child wants a patch on their good eye? Nobody. That’s a difficult minute-to-minute battle for parents; for us, it’s easy, patch the eye for two hours a day. Period. Goodbye. But to understand the importance of that and the timeliness when you’ve got to do that early on or it won’t work, that’s one difficulty.

To maintain eye health, do just what your family-practice doc has been saying for 100 years: Eat right, exercise every day and don’t smoke.

We must go back to mandatory PE in K-12. I don’t like mandatory laws—I’m more of a libertarian. But that’s for adults. ‘Fascism for Children’ is our motto, and that’s perfectly all right. We have to guide them. That hour everyday will help them more for learning and everything else in life than any hour of education.

One of the worst things that can happen to your child’s eyes is to have a penetrating injury or serious traumatic injury. The best thing for that is sports goggles at all times. Any physical activity—basketball, baseball, tennis, even golf—I’d love to see that become a cultural norm.

Whenever you’re reading or working at the computer, you strain your eyes a little and dry them out. We’re seeing people that need more glasses for the computer—that’s a good idea. Take little breaks.

One of my professors told me to pretend every patient sitting in front of you is your son or your mother or your friend, and you’ll do the right thing. That really hit home.

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