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Rapid City Ophthalmologist Got His Start at the Eye Bank

Nov 24, 2020 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

Rapid City-born Colin Brown spent his childhood on a cattle ranch in Northwestern South Dakota and later in Pierre. He knew from an early age that healthcare was his calling, although he had not yet zeroed in on ophthalmology. 

"There weren't even any permanent ophthalmologists where I grew up," recalls Brown, now a corneal and refractive surgeon with Wright Vision Center in Rapid City. "I would never even have had the chance to learn about this field directly if things had not worked out the way they did."

Brown studied pharmacy at South Dakota State University, but found that he felt more drawn to surgery. When his father, a member of his local Lions Club, mentioned the South Dakota Lions Eye Bank (now Dakota Lions Sight & Health), Brown approached them with curiosity. 

He was hired as a tissue and cornea recovery technician, tasked with surgically recovering donor tissue for transplant. After a year, he was promoted to tissue recovery team lead, a full-time position he held for the next three years. 

"Through that work, I not only got to procure tissue, but also to evaluate and understand it," says Dr. Brown. "It gave me the chance to shadow top ophthalmologists in their clinics, seeing how they interacted with patients and even getting to be in surgery, which was really, really cool." says Brown.

Brown says the experience allowed him to enter medical school at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine knowing "with 100 percent certainty" that he wanted to be a corneal surgeon. After earning his MD, Dr. Brown did his ophthalmology residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and went on to a cornea and refractive surgery fellowship at the Storm Eye Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina. 

"There are many areas of medicine where you are just managing disease and hoping for a good outcome," says Dr. Brown. "But in ophthalmology, you can have a significant positive impact on people's lives by improving their vision." 

Dakota Lions Sight and Health aims to place as much tissue as possible back into the communities it came from. They have a satellite office for tissue procurement in Rapid City and are hopeful that Dr. Brown's new practice will provide more opportunities for local tissue placement. 

"One big benefit of having Dakota Lions Sight and Health in our region is that the quality of the tissue that we can get is much higher than it would be if we had to go out of state," says Dr. Brown. "The less transit time that tissue has had, the better."

DLSH also provides advanced corneal tissue preparation, minimizing the chance for error and giving surgeons like Brown more opportunity to focus on what they do best. 

"The only thing I need to concentrate on is going in there and making sure the patient has a good outcome," says Dr. Brown. "It makes the surgery faster, and allows us to use less anesthesia. It's wonderful from both a patient and a surgeon standpoint."