Meet a Specialist: Nahyoung Grace Lee, M.D.
When Dr. Nahyoung Grace Lee initially expressed an interest in ophthalmology, her parents suggested that she study orthopedics instead. “There are over 200 bones in the body, but only two eyes,” they said.
But those two eyes are critical to everyday life, countered Dr. Lee, who now specializes in ocular plastic surgery, ocular oncology, and Asian eyelid surgery at Mass. Eye and Ear. Her expertise ranges from thyroid eye disease and excessive tearing to fractures of the eye socket and droopy eyelids. “Sometimes I’m preventing blindness or improving quality of life. Other times, I’m focusing on aesthetic needs,” she said.
A Life Lost, and A Life Saved
As a medical student at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Lee’s interest in ophthalmology was solidified after witnessing the debilitating effects of vision loss firsthand. Her friend’s mom had complications from type 1 diabetes, including end-stage diabetic retinopathy as well as kidney and heart failure, which eventually took her life.
“The most heart-wrenching part of her disease was the loss of her vision,” reflected Dr. Lee. “She couldn’t see photos of her only child who was living across the country. That experience left an impression on me and kicked off my interest in ophthalmology.”
Dr. Lee went on to complete her ophthalmology residency training at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California and Los Angeles County Hospital. Looking back, one of her most rewarding moments as a physician happened during residency—when she saved a woman’s life. A patient with bloody tears came to the hospital after multiple doctors were unable to diagnose the cause. Dr. Lee’s persistence led to the discovery of an aggressive cancer in the sinus cavity.
“The patient had to undergo a difficult surgery to remove her eye and surrounding tissue, but in the end, she was grateful that we found the source of the problem and saved her life,” Dr. Lee said.
A Commitment to Learning
After residency training, Dr. Lee completed a fellowship in Ophthalmic Pathology and Oncology at Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health and Science. She then continued her subspecialty and surgical training during a two-year Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery fellowship at Mass. Eye and Ear supported by a prestigious Heed Ophthalmic Foundation Fellowship Award.
Today, Dr. Lee remains committed to advancing her clinical expertise. This commitment spurred a trip to South Korea, where she studied the intricacies of Asian eyelid surgery at Samsung hospital in Seoul. “There are anatomical differences in the eyelids of Korean patients and Caucasian patients. I went to Korea to learn new techniques to better serve the adult and pediatric Asian population back home,” she said.
Research on Swelling of the Eye
In addition to her clinical responsibilities, Dr. Lee is a productive researcher. In 2013, she won the competitive Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology Research Award, given to only four residents or fellows in the country, for her research on swelling that occurs within and around the eye socket. To determine why the eye socket tissues are more susceptible to swelling than other parts of the body, specifically in thyroid eye disease, she is comparing orbital fat to other types of fat in the body. She is also examining the orbital fat of patients with and without the disease to identify potential differences.
Mentoring Future Ophthalmologists
Dr. Lee also considers teaching to be a privilege and an opportunity. In 2013, she was selected as the Fellow of the Year by Mass. Eye and Ear ophthalmology residents. “It’s important that we foster interest and curiosity in ophthalmology and promote more great minds in our field. I feel humbled to work alongside such brilliant and dedicated colleagues, mentors, and students,” she said.
Learn more about Dr. Lee
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