Mary Lynch, MD, receives Innovator Award from the American Glaucoma Society

By Leigh DeLozier | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | March 25, 2019

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Emory Eye Center

The American Glaucoma Society has named Emory Eye Center ophthalmologist Mary G. Lynch, MD, as the 2019 recipient of the society’s prestigious Innovator Award. The award is given to one physician each year in recognition of his or her contributions to the field of glaucoma. She is the first woman to receive this award. 

Lynch is professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine/Emory Eye Center. She joined Emory and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1988 and served as chief of the ophthalmology section there from 1994-2010. 

“My husband [Reay Brown] and I were recruited to the Emory Eye Clinic in 1988 to run the glaucoma service,” Lynch says. “We were drawn to Emory’s rich tradition of clinical and bench research, the teaching opportunities afforded by Grady and the VA, and the outstanding and collegial faculty.” 

“Reay and I were the Emory glaucoma team,” she continues. “When he was in the OR, I was in clinic, and vice versa. By the time our daughters reached school age, I realized that in order to maintain balance I had to make some changes to my professional life. The chief of ophthalmology position at the VA Medical Center became available and I jumped at the opportunity.”

During her career, Lynch’s research has centered on innovative ways to deal with difficult problems in glaucoma. She wrote the first paper describing central nervous system side effects from beta-blocker eye drops. Her observations led her to work on the development of dropper tips that could produce smaller eye drops; this work has been incorporated into current dropper tip designs. She also wrote the first paper describing the surgical treatment of pseudophakic malignant glaucoma: the creation of unicameral eye that still is the basic principal of malignant glaucoma treatment.

Lynch also wrote the first paper describing the 360-degree suture trabeculotomy to treat congenital glaucoma. This option had a much higher success rate than other protocols and gave children a higher chance of achieving normal vision.

In 1999, Lynch developed the EyePass in collaboration with her husband. The EyePass was the first trabecular bypass device for glaucoma and initiated a new category of surgery: minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS).

As a physician with the Atlanta VA Medical Center, Lynch has a strong interest in improving eye care delivery and enhancing other aspects of life for aging veterans who have poor vision. 

“For over 30 years, Dr. Lynch has applied her innovative spirit and energy to improve the Veteran Affairs Healthcare System at the local, regional and national levels,” says Steve Urken, MD, chief of ophthalmology at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. “She was responsible for the introduction and advancement of an ophthalmic-specific electronic health record into the VA. From the inception of the VA’s diabetic tele-retinal screening program through today’s more advanced tele-eye screening programs, Dr. Lynch has been at the forefront from the standpoint of creativity and implementation.”

One such program is TECS, or Technology-based Eye Care Services. TECS has been implemented through the VA system nationwide as a way to equalize healthcare opportunities for rural, medically underserved and homeless veterans.

“The program gives veterans better access to eye care by screening them at their primary care clinics,” explains April Maa, MD, who has worked with Lynch on new models of eye care delivery since joining Emory and the Atlanta VA in 2008. “Older patients are at the greatest risk for developing potentially blinding eye conditions, but are also less likely to seek care if they have to travel. Providing the service closer to home can make it much easier for them to access the care they need.”

“Initially, I thought working at the VA would be a temporary move and that I would return to Emory once the girls were grown,” Lynch says. “But the VA proved to be a wonderful place to work with very grateful patients. Over time I was able to build up one of the largest sections in the hospital and expand the residency training program. I also became involved in national committees and was able to launch a number of innovative programs.”

Lynch’s community involvement outside Emory and the VA has led to recognition from numerous groups. She received the Sight Saver Award from Prevent Blindness Georgia for establishing a community-based glaucoma initiative in Atlanta and received the Joseph D. Greene Community Service Award from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation for collaborating with the Lions Lighthouse Foundation to establish a network of outpatient eye clinics to care for uninsured and underserved patients throughout the state.

She also established a foundation in memory of her daughter, Madeleine Jude Brown, who passed away in 2006. The MUB Foundation provides a four-year college scholarship to one or two high school students from Atlanta each year. As president of the foundation, Lynch has thus far mentored 12 students through their college journey.

Lynch is grateful to have trained under Irvin P. Pollack, MD, whom she credits for showing her how to balance a successful professional life, a happy family life, and community service. 

“I was very fortunate to have Dr. Lynch and Dr. Brown as my mentors during residency, fellowship, and as a junior faculty member of the Emory Eye Center.” says Allen Beck, MD, interim chair of ophthalmology and interim director of the Emory Eye Center. “Mary is an outstanding teacher and I owe my pediatric glaucoma interest to her enthusiastic approach to these often challenging patients. She is most deserving of the Innovator Award as she is always thinking of new ways to treat glaucoma and novel ways to improve patient care. I will always remember her saying ‘We are making history!’ whenever we were performing circumferential trabeculotomy surgery. Congratulations to Mary for this outstanding award and her years of service to the EEC and VAMC.”

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The Emory Eye Center is the largest, most comprehensive eye care facility in Georgia, serving patients for nearly 150 years. With programs in cornea, retina (surgical and medical), glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics, ophthalmic pathology and pediatric ophthalmology, Emory Eye Center has long been one of the most sought-after training programs for ophthalmology subspecialties. Our research program remains one of the top-ranked and top NIH-funded vision research institutions in the U.S., with total NIH grant awards exceeding $45 million since 2006. To learn more, visit www.eyecenter.emory.edu.