$1 million donation establishes Brightfelt Professorship in Cornea


Robert Brightfelt donated $1 million to the UI clinics after physicians repaired his vision.

By Paul Elwell


Over the course of many years, Robert Brightfelt, 75, has experienced a slow deterioration in his vision due to a condition known as Fuchs’ dystrophy, a disease that causes the lining in the surface of the cornea to slowly die off.

“My eyes decayed so slowly, it seemed like that is how they have been all along,” Brightfelt said with a laugh. “I couldn’t see certain things on the TV anymore, and I couldn’t read street signs from the car.”

Brightfelt said he has always taken care of his health. He visited an eye doctor at least once every year. However, after his condition was diagnosed, he was told that he was ineligible for a cornea transplant, and that nothing could be done to halt the decay of his eyesight. A friend also receiving eye care referred Brightfelt to the University of Iowa clinic, saying that it had a top-notch program.

In a report done by the *U.S. News & World Report*, the UI Hospitals & Clinics was ranked as the sixth-best ophthalmology hospital in the country, according to data gathered from surveyed specialists around the nation.

“I was totally amazed by the capabilities of the clinic; they have more technology than I have ever seen,” Brightfelt said. “They were highly organized, excellent people. It took about 15 minutes for them figure out what was wrong. They said, ‘We can fix that, no problem.’ ”

After a series of four surgeries performed by Mark Greiner, Brightfelt now enjoys almost perfect vision: 20/20 in his left eye, 20/25 in his right.

As a token of his appreciation for both the medical capabilities of the UI clinic and his positive relationship with Greiner and his team, Brightfelt made a $1 million contribution to the UI, establishing the Brightfelt Professorship in Cornea.

“We are always thrilled to receive donations, especially this particular one from Robert,” said Sara Volz, the director of development for the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “Donations from anyone at any dollar amount are greatly appreciated and substantial to us.”

The professorship will be awarded to an outstanding faculty member in the field of cornea research, treatment, and education. The selection of the recipient will be a lengthy process. The faculty member who will ultimately be chosen is up to the discretion of Keith Carter, the chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology.

“We will undergo a rigorous search to fill the professorship with an individual who can thrive in our environment and advance our mission of preserving and restoring vision,” Carter said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

He said named professorships are beneficial to the UI.

“Named professorships serve as an important recognition tool for an existing faculty member doing outstanding work in the area of interest to the professorship namesake or can be a vital recruitment tool in bringing the highest qualified candidate to the University of Iowa and our department,” he said.

The search is in its early stages and is not expected to be finished for some time.

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