American Optometric Association Names Annual Award Winners at Optometry’s Meeting

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AOA president Ron Hopping (l) presents
 the OD of the Year award to Neil W.
 Draisin, OD of the Draisin Vision Group, Charleston, S.C.

SAN DIEGO—The American Optometric Association (AOA) held its annual award presentation Thursday June 27 at the opening general session of Optometry’s Meeting held at the San Diego Convention Center. At the Essilor-sponsored event, the AOA named the OD of the Year, Young OD of the Year, Optometric Educator of the Year and Paraoptometric of the Year. The organization also presented its Distinguished Service and Apollo Awards.

OD of the Year was presented to Neil W. Draisin, OD, working in private practice in Charleston, S.C., since 1972, when he established The Draisin Vison Group. Graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1971, he completed a residency in pediatric optometry and vision therapy at the State University of New York. Draisin specialized in vision therapy after hearing about the therapy in a seminar he attended during his senior year. Committed to helping children succeed, he became certified in vision development from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.

In 1976, Draisin established the Head Start Vision Screening Program in Charleston. Since then, nearly 1,500 children are screened each year through this eye health program. He serves as an adjunct professor for the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, the Southern College of Optometry and the University of Alabama College of Optometry, serving as a preceptor for their externship programs. He has been a member of the South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association (SCOPA) and the AOA for more than 40 years. He was recognized as the SCOPA Optometrist of the Year in August 2011. He has also been recognized by the AOA’s Optometric Recognition Award Program consecutively since 1994 and has served on the AOA’s Pediatric and Binocular Vision and Communications committees.

Sandra Fortenberry, OD, FAAO, was named Young OD of the Year. Assistant professor at the Rosenberg School of Optometry of the University of the Incarnate Word, she graduated optometry school from the University of Houston College of Optometry, where she also completed a community-based family practice residency. Fortenberry is the director of continuing education and professional relations at the Rosenberg School of Optometry  and is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. She is also a member of the AOA, Texas Optometric Association and Bexar County Optometric Association.

The Optometric Educator of the Year award was presented to Michael J. Earley, OD, PhD, assistant dean for clinical services at the Ohio State University School of Optometry. A teacher, lecturer, clinician, advisor and researcher, he received OSU’s highest teaching award, the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. Dr. Earley also serves the profession as a member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Optometry and as a participant in the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry’s clinic directors’ special interest group.

Much of his work involves serving the visual needs of children. His service to the visual welfare of the public includes his participation as a volunteer for the VISION USA and InfantSEE programs through Optometry Cares - the AOA Foundation. He is also a presenter of the Ohio Optometric Association Realeyes program, which educates students in preschool through eighth grade on the importance of eyecare and vision safety.

Amy Godeaux, CPOT, was named Paraoptometric of the Year. She began her career in 2008 with Jay Miller, OD, and became a certified paraoptometric four months later. She graduated from the Madison Area Technical College Ophthalmic Technician program in 2011 and became a certified paraoptometric technician that same year. Currently serving as president of the Louisiana Paraoptometric Association, she was instrumental in more than doubling its membership in less than two years. Godeaux volunteers for the Lion’s Club community glaucoma screenings, InfantSEE assessments, community sports screenings, and assists with the Junior Auxiliary in vision screenings at a local school. Active in the AOA Paraoptometric Section, she served on its Awards Committee in 2010-2011 and currently serves on the Membership Committee.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was presented the Apollo Award. Retiring from the U.S. Senate when his term ends in 2014, he has consistently advocated for greater access to the comprehensive eye and vision care provided by America’s doctors of optometry. Among his many accomplishments, Sen. Harkin championed the AOA-backed provider non-discrimination provision in the Affordable Care Act known as the Harkin Amendment, the first federal standard barring health insurers from discriminating in plan coverage and participation against ODs. He was also responsible for leading the effort to secure federal recognition and funding for the AOA’s InfantSEE program.

The Distinguished Service Award was presented to Thomas L. Lewis, OD, PhD. A 1970 graduate of Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), he has held various administrative and teaching positions at PCO, including dean of Academic Affairs from 1980-1989. In 1989, Dr. Lewis was named president of PCO, a position he has held for 25 years, and under his leadership the college grew to university status, Salus University, and now includes four different professional degree programs with more than 1,000 students enrolled. He has presented more than 200 continuing education courses in all 50 states. His research career began as research fellow, supported by the National Eye Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He has published more than 30 abstracts, editorials, papers, research papers and book chapters.

Dr. Lewis has served in leadership positions in nearly every national optometric organization, as president of the American Academy of Optometry, president of the Partnership Foundation for Optometric Education, president of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry, as president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. In addition, he has served on numerous committees for the AOA. Dr. Lewis was inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2012.

At the conclusion of the award presentation, keynote speaker Jose (J.R.) Martinez, Iraq war veteran and burn victim made famous by winning ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” season 13 and being named one of People magazine’s Most Intriguing People of 2011, inspired the audience describing how he’s overcome diversity throughout his life.