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A full-time optometrist with expertise in specialized contact lens care, particularly for patients with corneal disease, and Director of the Optometry and Contact Len Service at Mass. Eye and Ear, Dr. Watts recalls that it was a summer research project at Bowdoin College that crystallized her intellectual interest in the science of sight. “While helping my professor study vision problems in Alzheimer’s patients, I realized that the study of visual optics combined my two favorite subjects, neuroscience and physics,” she explains. “That’s when I discovered that I not only loved interacting with patients, but that the study of visual perception absolutely fascinated me.”
That fascination first arose in childhood visits to the optometrist. An avid young athlete, she began wearing contact lenses at the age of ten. “I played basketball and field hockey and also loved swimming and skiing. When I got my contacts,” she recalls, “I could suddenly do everything I wanted to do without worrying that my glasses were going to fall off.”
Years later, when she was deciding on a medical profession, the memory of her childhood optometrist inspired her. “It seemed that what he did–fitting patients for the right eyeglasses or contact lenses–made a huge difference in people’s lives,” she explains. That’s when I realized optometry was the perfect fit for me.”
Today Dr. Watts directs the new Optometry and Contact Lens Service, offering eye patients expanded primary care access. “We wanted to reduce the waiting time for patients seeking routine care,” she says from her office at Mass. Eye and Ear’s Charles Street location. “Another benefit is that now with a single appointment, patients can have their eye exam and their contact lens evaluation or fitting that same day.”
The Optometry and Contact Lens Service also provides specialized contact lens care for patients with corneal irregularities, including keratoconus and corneal transplants, and for patients with aphakia–the absence of the eye lens, which can result from trauma or, in rare pediatric cases, from the surgical removal of congenital cataracts. Moreover, specialized and accessible eye care is available for deaf people through Vision Care for the Deaf, a program founded in 1985.
Dr. Watts, who completed her optometry training at the New England College of Optometry, followed by a residency there in Cornea and Contact Lenses, notes that some members of the Optometry and Contact Lens Service also have completed optometric residencies for additional experience. In particular, Mark Bernardo, OD and Matt Goodman, OD are two members who received advanced training through Mass. Eye and Ear’s year-long residency program in Contact Lens and Ocular Disease. “Our extensive training enables us to identify the need for further, more specialized, ophthalmic care,” she says. “If we see possible signs of glaucoma, retinal disease, or another complex issue, we can refer patients to one of Mass. Eye and Ear’s ophthalmic specialists.”
In addition to her extensive experience in fitting soft and rigid gas permeable and hybrid lenses for a variety of diagnoses, Dr. Watts has expertise in the fitting of scleral lenses (PROSE) for severe ocular surface diseases, such as Stevens Johnson syndrome, Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD), and Sjogren’s syndrome.
Scleral lenses have a larger lens that vaults over the cornea and sits on the sclera (the outer white surface of the eye), which allows a layer of saline liquid between the back surface of the lens and the front surface of the cornea. According to Dr. Watts, this design enhances comfort for patients while offering improved vision.
“These lenses have allowed us to fit patients who couldn’t otherwise use lenses because their ocular surface was too irregular or because their corneas were too sensitive,” she explains. Dr. Watts is available to consult with patients interested in scleral lenses.
In addition to managing the Optometry and Contact Lens Service, Dr. Watts directs the Mass. Eye and Ear Optometric Residency Program and is a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Ophthalmology. She notes that her educational approach, like her clinical approach, stresses the importance of listening.
“Patients are very descriptive about what they’re feeling and what they’re seeing,” she explains. “So if you really listen, you can learn a lot about fit problems, even before you conduct your exam. That’s why I always tell my students that careful attention to the patient history ‘is number one.’ It’s a crucial piece of the diagnostic process, right alongside checking the vision and looking at the lens.”
Contact Dr. Watt’s office at 617-573-3185.
View Dr. Watt’s online bio for more information.