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Summer 2021

REFLECTIONS FROM ICO'S LONGEST SERVING FACULTY MEMBER

WRITTEN BY:

Connie Scavuzzo, MA

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Graduating as valedictorian of his class in 1964, Dr. Darrell Schlange began teaching at ICO after completing his residency in 1965. Now retired after 56 years of service to ICO, he reflects on his chosen path and the importance of giving back.

Tell us about your background and how you eventually chose to pursue the field of optometry. Was there someone who influenced your decision?

 

I grew up in a loving family with five siblings on a farm in rural southeast Nebraska. Our lives were dedicated to strong family and Christian values, an intense work ethic, and strong commitment to our extended family and community. Our parents broke with rural traditions and gave me and my siblings the opportunity and support to attend college. Education was encouraged as essential for self-actualization, pursuing our dreams, forming our own values and ideals, having independence, working towards a productive and satisfying life-chosen career, and being a productive and contributing member of society. The importance of giving back began to strongly resonate in me. 

Dr. Schlange with his wife of nearly 60 years, Ruth.

A huge part of my final decision to enter ICO was realized when I visited Chicago and the ICO campus.

I was initially interested in some form of teaching or ministry and as such, enrolled at Wartburg College (in Waverly, Iowa), a Lutheran affiliated college. At Wartburg, however, my favorite and most enjoyable courses were in the health and medical sciences. On college break, I visited our local optometrist in Auburn, Nebraska because of a suspected vision problem. Patrick Crotty, OD '55 recommended contact lenses. The experience of having clear vision, gaining insight from the enjoyable office experience, and learning about the benefits and satisfying quality of life with a career in optometry… collectively, it began to intensely capture my attention. 


I actively pursued a career in optometry during my third-year of college and began checking out the various colleges of optometry. ICO was the obvious first choice because it was the closest location; however, the thought of moving to Chicago was formidable, to say the least! Dr. Crotty continued to encourage me to consider ICO and all of the fabulous events and activities that Chicago had to offer. His extensive involvement in the local community presented him as a socially involved person who lived a life of giving back. Dr. Crotty was a cherished mentor who helped me sort out my career choices and continually encouraged optometry as the best choice of all. 

A huge part of my final decision to enter ICO was realized when I visited Chicago and the ICO campus in April 1964, meeting with Hyman Wodis, OD '40, Alfred Rosenbloom, OD '48, Eugene Strawn '40, and a few students. Given acceptance, I shared the good news with my bride-to-be, Ruth. 

Ruth grew up in a small city in southern Minnesota. We anticipated a “cultural shock” moving from small-town life to a life in Chicago. While the loneliness and challenges could be intense and overwhelming at times, our resilience, teamwork, family support, and love for each other carried us through. We met Jack Roggenkamp, OD '63 and his wife, Jan, who were living in a mobile home village in Blue Island. Ruth and I were married August 13, 1961 and moved our new 8'x'42' mobile home to Blue Island as I began my studies at ICO later that month. Jack and Jan were a great comfort for us as the stress of isolation from family was often unbearable. Counting the coins left in our pocket was a common ritual, just before Ruth’s next payday. 

 

I am reminded of these challenges we faced as I mentor our ICO students, some who may be going through financial hardship or experiencing the excruciating pain of loneliness, anxiety, uncertainty… searching for the support and stamina to achieve their goal. Sharing insights and strategies has been helpful for invigorating the passion and internal resources needed to "keep our eye on the prize" amid societal challenges and stressful circumstances. 

Dr. Schlange with his wife Ruth, mentor Alfred Rosenbloom, OD '48, and David Hansen, OD '71.

Who was most influential to you during your time at ICO? How important was having a mentor(s) throughout your educational journey? 

 

Alfred Rosenbloom, OD '48 often invited faculty and student groups to his home in Hyde Park for wonderful and enjoyable social functions. These events provided powerful mentoring experience for both faculty and students. Dr. Rosenbloom was a quintessential mentor regarding patient care, education, national and local leadership, and effective teaching, research and reading. He often sat in on my lectures and gave valuable feedback. I had the opportunity to observe him in teaching and clinical settings and used these experiences as a model for my own development. His profound love for teaching and mentoring students was inspirational. 

 

E. Richard Tennant, OD '45 had an amazing, yet gentle, command of the lecture room, always communicating that he cared for you and wanted you to be the best optometrist. My most vivid memories with Dr. Tennant were discussions about having a healthy balance in life, among family, work, and community. My love for teaching and student mentoring was flourishing in me, and I truly began to understand the joy and passion for working with students as I observed in both Dr. Rosenbloom and Dr. Tennant. Their mentoring was ongoing during our years on the faculty — readily available, always willing to talk, both providing constructive comments, some complimentary and others needing improvement. 

 

I believe that teaching is incomplete without mentoring. During my career, I have had many special experiences through the mentoring of current and former students; sharing their happiness and joys; comforting them through their losses; joining in the love for a new child or a special accomplishment; even the rare and unique duty (many years after their graduation) when called to testify on their behalf in a court of law. Mentoring can be a lifelong adventure and friendship, and it's a rewarding way to give back.

How did your interest in treating children begin? Was there a specific experience that impacted you?

 

Early on in my career, I was very interested in my young patients' school performance. I would send vision reports, communicating with teachers and parents about vision problems and the potential to improve a child’s reading and classroom performance through VT and other services. Eventually, I was asked to speak to parent and teacher groups. In turn, we invited these groups to ICO for presentations and tours of our clinic, especially the VT room. This resulted in referrals from teachers, reading specialists, psychologists, counselors, occupational therapists, nurses, and parents. We began to develop clinic sessions specifically for young patients as well as patients with learning, behavioral, school achievement and developmental problems. 

 

I was frequently asked to speak with parents, educational groups, and agencies interested in pediatric eye problems, including vision-related learning problems. This was in the late 60s and early 70s when schools did not have legally mandated programs for helping children with vision disabilities, learning problems and secondary behavioral issues (ADHD). Frustrated parents formed child advocacy organizations like the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities and became politically active at the local, state, and national level. 

 

I served on the advisory boards of many child advocacy groups and organizations, which led to more optometry referrals and positioned an optometrist as a good resource for helping children with functional, developmental, and visual-related learning disorders. Some parents, frustrated with the lack of relevant school services, formed their own school, for instance, the Beacon Therapeutic School in the Chicago Beverly neighborhood. I was one of Beacon’s founders. Beacon was developed to provide educational, counseling, behavioral, and social services with a multidisciplinary approach, covering the full spectrum of disabilities and learning problems that children have. 

My love for teaching and student mentoring was flourishing in me, and I truly began to understand the joy and passion for working with students,
as I observed in both 
Dr. Rosenbloom and
Dr. Tennant. 

During this time, I was invited to participate in the national White House Conference on Children and the Illinois Conference on Children. Several Chicago area organizations had similar conferences on unmet needs of children. Eventually, the public and educational and medical specialties were successfully educated on the importance of vision in learning and early development. ICO initially adjusted to this increase in pediatric services by establishing clinics for infants and special needs populations, vision therapy, and developmental disabilities. These are now consolidated as the Dr. Robert and Lena Lewenson Center for Pediatrics and Binocular Vision within the College's Illinois Eye Institute. 

Why is conducting research important to you? Are there any studies that you are most proud of or excited about?

 

Research has always been an enjoyable experience as is working with students as they conduct some very amazing research studies. Collaborating with others and collectively contributing to the scientific body of knowledge is another form of giving back to our profession which is very important to me. 

Many of my research studies have investigated eye movements, related to either reading or more complex problems like nystagmus and ocular muscle disorders. One of the most rewarding aspects of research is sharing and defending your results with other investigators at research meetings, including international meetings with worldwide attendees. 


One of my most enjoyable faculty advisory experiences with significant research outcomes was the King-Devick Test. There are many other similar student research projects, although none as significant nor successful as King-Devick. One of my most challenging experiences was a large cohort of patients with post-concussion syndrome, referred from a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine. Most were adults with traumatic

experiences that profoundly changed their lives. This was an excellent research experience with interprofessional collaboration, providing a model of effective patient care management, including the use of narrative medicine. These patients received various forms of treatment and advice, and, in many cases, we saw remarkable improvements, giving them functional skills and a quality of life similar to their life prior to the concussion. 

In addition to the research that I have personally conducted, Ruth and I have supported ICO's research program by establishing the Brittany Research Award several years ago in memory of our first grandchild, Brittany, born with congenital heart problems. She participated in infant heart research conducted at Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. Even though Brittany is not with us, we know that she contributed to the development of life-saving treatment procedures that have enhanced the life of many infants born with heart problems. The Brittany Research Award has supported numerous ICO research studies over the years. Ruth and I believe that the educational process at ICO is very dynamic and far-reaching. We believe that supporting ICO and its research programs is consistent with our values of giving back and paying it forward.

While a faculty member, you were also in private practice. Tell us about your private practice experiences.

 

Private practice experiences are an opportunity to gain more clinical experience, also to keep me 'grounded' by experiencing more directly the entire doctor-patient relationship from beginning to end. This is different than in an educational institution where clinic introductions and billing matters are the sole responsibility of the non-clinical staff. Ernest Havrilla, OD '52, who practiced in the Mount Greenwood area of Chicago, was my first private practice mentor. In his practice, I provided vision therapy services and had my first opportunity to provide pediatric eye exams. 

 

Later, during the early 1970s, I established a private practice near my home in Palos Heights, Ill. This was an excellent opportunity for me to establish working relationships with multiple medical specialists in the southwest suburban area. During this time, I also began to collaborate with Floyd Woods, OD '51 on his brilliant vision for Midwest Eye Professionals, an OD-MD integrated medical office. I joined Complete Vision Care, Dr. Woods’ Oak Lawn office, in 1998. Now owned by Sandra Bury, OD '95, I continue to see long-time patients. This has been a delightful and personally rewarding clinical experience; I consider my patients as good friends. I also provide mentoring and shadowing experiences at the office for ICO students and undergraduate students interested in optometry which is another fulfilling way of giving back. 

While a faculty member, you were also in private practice. Tell us about your private practice experiences.

 

Private practice experiences are an opportunity to gain more clinical experience, also to keep me 'grounded' by experiencing more directly the entire doctor-patient relationship from beginning to end. This is different than in an educational institution where clinic introductions and billing matters are the sole responsibility of the non-clinical staff. Ernest Havrilla, OD '52, who practiced in the Mount Greenwood area of Chicago, was my first private practice mentor. In his practice, I provided vision therapy services and had my first opportunity to provide pediatric eye exams. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of research is sharing and defending your results with other investigators at research meetings, including international meetings with worldwide attendees.

Later, during the early 1970s, I established a private practice near my home in Palos Heights, Ill. This was an excellent opportunity for me to establish working relationships with multiple medical specialists in the southwest suburban area. During this time, I also began to collaborate with Floyd Woods, OD '51 on his brilliant vision for Midwest Eye Professionals, an OD-MD integrated medical office. I joined Complete Vision Care, Dr. Woods’ Oak Lawn office, in 1998. Now owned by Sandra Bury, OD '95, I continue to see long-time patients. This has been a delightful and personally rewarding clinical experience; I consider my patients as good friends. I also provide mentoring and shadowing experiences at the office for ICO students and undergraduate students interested in optometry which is another fulfilling way of giving back. 

What are some of the most impactful changes that you have experienced in the profession during the last 56 years?

 

The evolution of our optometric profession during the last 56 years has been astounding. I have observed and participated in many of these astonishing changes, transitioning optometry from drugless eye care with severe practice limitations, to having a highly respected role in the national health care system, offering full scope medical eye care, including the use of pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures. 

 

The results of these dynamic developments have had enormous health benefits to our patients. One example is in pediatric optometry. We currently examine, treat, and manage childhood amblyopia and strabismus. In 1964, we were expected to send these “medical” cases directly to the ophthalmologists. Another example is the astounding change in the management of glaucoma patients. We now examine, treat and manage glaucoma at the highest level. However, 56 years ago, any patient with elevated Schiotz tonometry readings or suspected glaucoma needed referral to a “medical specialist.” Numerous examples of these incredible changes are ever-present, reminding us of our incredible history. 

 

The many astonishing advancements in optometry are the result of many heroic efforts. Honorable and significant among these impactful changes is ICO’s consistently strong, unwavering, and visionary leadership. I am grateful to have been a part of these astonishing changes in our profession, guided by the leadership, teamwork, and collaboration of many: six ICO presidents, eight academic deans, 21 board chairpersons, hundreds of faculty colleagues, an outstanding support staff, and thousands of ICO alumni. Truly it can be said that we stand on the shoulders of the many who have gone before us, contributing to our success in this challenging journey. 

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Over the years and decades, what were the lessons that you learned along the way that had a significant impact on you and your outlook on life — either personally or professionally?

 

Seek balance between compassion, empathy, and objectivity in medical care, within a framework of comprehensive narrative and integrative medical care. Seek to treat each patient as an individual, respectful of their needs, feelings, and fears. Look beyond any disability or impairment, identifying their unique qualities, strengths, and potential for meaningful quality of life. Provide state-of-the-art eye care by coordinating patient care and interdisciplinary communication with other medical providers and serving as an essential member of the health care team. Be an advocate for optometry and the importance of healthy and efficient visual care, enhancing overall potential for learning, career development, ocular health, and quality of life. 

 

And lastly, be involved. Many of our profession’s accomplishments and increased clinical opportunities started as grassroots efforts by thousands of ODs in their local communities — collaborating with other medical specialties, with their schools, parents, and colleagues, doing what they are trained to do, enriching quality of life for all. Beyond this, with the collective efforts of organizations like AOA, AAO, IOA, COVD, and OEP, we share expertise, promoting our profession of optometry, and advance the well-being of many.

Now that you have retired, and as you reflect on your career, what words of wisdom do you have for your colleagues and future colleagues? What are your plans for the future?

 

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer 

 

I remember this quote as it expresses the joy and happiness I always had during my long career. Truly I am grateful for this opportunity to serve and be part of the amazing ICO family! Another Schweitzer quote, equally meaningful to me is, “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” I am profoundly honored and privileged for the opportunity to serve ICO, our students, and our patients for over 5½ decades. 

 

What do I plan to do after retirement? Together, Ruth and I will plan and chart out this new journey in our lives, with family time of foremost importance. We are blessed to have more time together and spending time with our three children, seven grandchildren and Maisie Marie, our great-granddaughter. I plan to continue some involvement as Associate Professor Emeritus, participating in the ICO community through writing, research, patient care, mentoring, and serving as a champion for optometry and ICO’s mission. 

 

I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”