Dr. Ben Pace grew up in Laurel, attending First United Methodist Church and graduating from West Jones High School. Today, as an ophthalmologist with Hattiesburg Eye Clinic, he’s caring for the eyes of people he’s known since childhood.
“My wife and I are both from Laurel,” Pace said. “During my medical training, we were trying to decide where to settle after residency. We both felt like home was the best choice for us.”
Pace received his medical degree in ophthalmology in 2014 from the University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson. After completing his residency, he joined Hattiesburg Eye Clinic last August. He sees patients in his old home town several days a week with the remainder of his time at the Hattiesburg location.
While he performs a number of surgical eye procedures, most of his cases involve cataracts.
“With an aging population, it’s among the most prominent eye conditions we see. And because the surgical technology to correct it is safer and more effective than ever, people are having their cataracts treated earlier,” he said.
To call attention to this serious eye condition, Pace and his fellow surgeons with Hattiesburg Eye Clinic are commemorating June as “Cataract Awareness Month.” This annual observance sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology highlights both the prevalence of cataracts and the treatments that can effectively correct it.
Cataracts occur when the eyes’ natural lenses become clouded. People with cataracts lose clarity and focus, often seeing the world through an increasingly yellowish or brownish haze. Pace said while aging is the most prominent factor in cataract development, steroid use, extended sunlight exposure and diseases like diabetes can accelerate it.
“We all develop some form of cataracts with age,” says Dr. Pace. “While symptoms can worsen, it’s best to diagnose the condition as early as possible through an annual eye examination, which the AAO recommends for anyone over forty.”
Fortunately, cataracts can be treated effectively with surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial implant called an intraocular lens. According to Dr. Pace, once removed, a cataract does not come back, and the IOL will never need to be replaced.
“Today’s IOLs are able to restore to a patient the sharpness and color vision they’ve lost. And depending on the type of IOL, it could be the best vision they’ve had in their life.”
The most advanced IOL offered by Hattiesburg Eye Clinic, the Tecnis Symfony, potentially corrects vision for all distances–far, intermediate and near–as well as astigmatism. Other lens options can correct for most of these, but the Symfony lens offers the highest possibility of a patient becoming “glasses-free.”
Pace said the procedure itself, often performed now with laser technology, also contributes to better and more accurate results. “Cataract surgery has advanced tremendously over the last few decades. And while we still perform the procedure manually, laser surgery has improved outcomes and is especially beneficial in patients with dense cataracts or astigmatism,” Pace said.
Hattiesburg Clinic’s premier cataract treatment option is the Catalys Precision Laser System. It is the most advanced cataract surgical system as it automates nearly all of the necessary incisions based on precise measurements of the patient’s eyes. Hattiesburg Eye Clinic was the first in Mississippi to offer the Catalys and is the only clinic in the state with a fixed site system.
Patricia Bankston’s recent treatment experience exemplifies these effective outcomes. A patient of Pace’s, Bankston has been living with cataracts since first being diagnosed in 2012 but could not undergo surgery at that time.
As her vision deteriorated, however, it became a necessity earlier this year. Pace performed the procedures for each of her eyes in late May and early June. “I had no problems at all–the procedure seemed to take no time at all.”
Since then, she’s seen a definite improvement in her vision. “It’s much better now. At one time I had to stand very close to my television set to see it, but now I can watch it at a normal distance.”
Pace is gratified to be able to provide this kind of change in the vision of people living in and around his native Laurel.
“We’ve loved every minute here, and are glad we can make a difference in a place we love so well.”