Meet a Specialist: Zhonghui Katie Luo, M.D., Ph.D.
Fascinated by the eye – and “the complexity of such a small, but beautiful organ” – Dr. Z. Katie Luo was first drawn to ophthalmology in medical school, in part, because of her interest in microsurgery. Today she is an exceptionally skilled cornea specialist and a member of the Comprehensive Ophthalmology Service, where she conducts routine annual eye and vision exams, and expertly manages a variety of common eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma, as well as all cornea-related diseases, including keratoconus, Fuchs dystrophy, and pterygium.
Dr. Luo was born in China, attended college there, and speaks fluent Mandarin. She came to the United States where she earned her M.D./Ph.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and continued her training in ophthalmology and subspecialty training in cornea and external diseases at Mass. Eye and Ear. According to Dr. Luo, “Some patients are surprised by my background. I do have a different background…and I’m proud of who I am.”
At the center of Dr. Luo’s practice philosophy is patient education and empowerment. Dr. Luo recalls a patient who came to her with an infected eye and rapidly decreasing vision after cataract surgery with an outside doctor. “I explained the pros and cons about following a more aggressive treatment versus a more conservative one,” she says. “We wanted to get to the bottom of the problem, so we went with the aggressive treatment, and I supported him through this process with daily follow-ups outside of my normal clinic hours.”
Managing eye disease requires a long-term commitment for both patients and physicians and may involve multiple visits to a doctor’s office each year. This was true for the patient who came in with an infected eye. Dr. Luo remembers, “We had a lot of ups and downs together before he was seeing 20/20 again. Things would get better, and then they would get worse. But the story had a happy ending. The patient had a lot of faith in me, and in return, I did everything possible to help restore his vision and eye health.”
Approachable and genuinely caring, Dr. Luo easily builds rapport with patients and establishes strong relationships. A mother herself, Dr. Luo finds it easy to connect with children and young parents and put them at ease. And when she is not at work, Dr. Luo says, “I enjoy spending every minute possible with my daughter.”
Dr. Luo shares her passion for ophthalmology as a mentor to medical students and residents, and she is affectionately called “best EW Attending” by some of her trainees. Her enthusiasm and practicality in training junior staff translates to exceptional patient care and better outcomes.
In addition to a solid background in basic science, Dr. Luo also has research interests in a variety of clinical practices. For instance, she is interested in the non-invasive technique of optical coherence tomography (OCT) as a method to read the “map” of the eye and, ultimately, to improve scleral contact lens fitting. She is also keen on promoting keratoprosthesis (an artificial cornea transplant) as an early treatment option for certain patients with damaged corneas who are poor candidates for traditional cornea transplants.
Because of her exceptional dedication and in-depth skills, some patients drive for hours just to see Dr. Luo. “Mass. Eye and Ear is a really great institution,” she explains. “When a patient comes to me and says, ‘I travelled three hours here because you are the best,’ I tell them, ‘Thank you very much. We appreciate your trust and I think we deserve that trust. We will do our very best to serve you.’”
As of January, 2013, Dr. Luo works full-time at Mass. Eye and Ear’s new ambulatory care center located at 800 Huntington Avenue in the Longwood/Mission Hill area. She expanded her cornea practice to include laser refractive surgery and will be conducting patient evaluations at Longwood, but performing laser procedures at Mass. Eye and Ear’s main campus.