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Eye surgeon to accept Ellis Island Medal of Honor

Lee led a telemedicine and distance-learning portal to reduce blindness in babies through patient screening and physician education with the Armenian Eye Care Project.
Thomas C. Lee led a distance-learning portal to reduce blindness in babies through patient screening with the Armenian Eye Care Project.

Thomas C. Lee, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, was recognized with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor presented by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.

On May 12, Lee will join nearly 100 fellow honorees selected from thousands of nominations at the Great Hall on Ellis Island in New York City. Past recipients include former U.S. presidents, Muhammad Ali, Deepak Chopra, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, among others.

“Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in America with a multitude of cultural backgrounds,” said Henri Ford, vice dean for medical education at the Keck School and vice president and chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). He said Lee “represents a legacy of excellence and exemplifies a strength that doctors hope to attain in their careers.”

The most vivid characteristic that Lee shares with his fellow recipients is one of compassion for those who deserve a better quality of life. Through medicine, education and his delicate precision, Lee prevents blindness in children around the world.

“I don’t see borders. I see children that have preventable eye diseases, and I want to be sure we do the best to make sure they are given a chance at sight,” explained Lee, an eye surgeon with The Vision Center at CHLA.

“We need to tear down barriers that are based on religious beliefs, wars and cultural disagreements to serve the same mission, and that is to create a better life for our children.”

Through his mission and dedication to teach doctors in underprivileged populations, Lee has helped populations in Armenia, China, Mexico and Mongolia, among other countries.

Lee led a telemedicine and distance-learning portal to reduce blindness in babies through patient screening and physician education with the Armenian Eye Care Project. As Armenian doctors diagnose and treat their patients, Lee is able to monitor exams and surgeries using advanced medical equipment from more than 7,000 miles away.

He has made advances in the understanding of pediatric retinal disorders and pioneered the use of imaging techniques to identify eye diseases at the earliest possible stage. He also was the first to use an intraocular endoscope to perform complex surgery in pediatric retinal detachments.

Lee also has identified novel drugs that can induce blood vessel and tumor regression and currently designs new ways to enhance delivery into the eye.

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