• Unsung Heroes: Judith Kirby, MD

    Feb. 20, 2020

    For Judith Kirby, MD, ophthalmology is not just her profession, it’s her privilege. “Every day I go to work, and I love everything that I do, and I am just so grateful for the capacity to powerfully impact people's lives every day,” Dr. Kirby said.

    Dr. Kirby is one of more than 5,000 ophthalmologists nationwide who volunteer through the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeCare America® program to provide eye exams for people in her community who generally don’t have health insurance.

    She is an uncompromising advocate for her patients, regardless of their ability to pay for an exam. She learned this lesson early in her career when a 40-year-old woman with a fussy child came to her office complaining of blurry vision. She had 20/20 vision and likely just needed reading glasses, so the office technicians questioned whether it was necessary to dilate her eyes. It was a Saturday morning, and everyone just wanted to go home. Despite the pressure, she followed her training and dilated her eyes. Dr. Kirby detected intraocular melanoma and saved her life.

    “I realized then how important it was to have received the kind of training I did, where it was just so vitally important to do everything and be very conscientious about everything we do, because it matters,” said Dr. Kirby, who studied at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

    Coming from a family of modest means taught her the importance of giving back to her Dallas community. Her father's parents were potato farmers in Pennsylvania; her mother's, immigrants from Italy with no formal education.

    “I've received such a tremendous opportunity in my life,” Dr. Kirby explained, “I want to share that and lift others up that come behind me. There are just so many people who need a little bit of help. And if I can help just a little bit and just pass what was given to me onto somebody else, then everybody's better. Enabling people to see again is just wonderful. And every day I go to work, I love my job.”

    Ophthalmology has an abundance of unsung heroes who save sight, sometimes overcoming great challenges to deliver medical and surgical eye care. During 2020: Year of the Eye, the Academy is featuring stories about some of these heroes. Their colleagues nominated them for quietly serving the underserved, mentoring the next generation and sharing their skills with the world.