Mattax-Neu-Prater Eye Center Inc., which opened in 1999, is branching out to focus on patients with retinal disorders.
Retinal Associates opened Nov. 1 in leased space at 1135 E. Lakewood Ave., Ste. 104. The clinic, an independent division of Mattax Neu Prater, is staffed by three doctors. Two of them – Dr. Gary Mehlhorn, and Dr. Leo T. Neu III – are longtime Springfield physicians, joined by newcomer Dr. Bryan Schwent.
Schwent, an ophthalmologist and associate with Retinal Associates, said 16 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a leading cause of diabetic retinopathy, which damages blood vessels and is the leading cause of new blindness in people between the ages of 25 and 74.
Increased prevalence of that condition, combined with the growing senior population – of which up to 25 percent can suffer from macular degeneration – are what led Mattax-Neu-Prater to add a practice focused retinal disorders, said Dr. James Mattax, managing partner.
“It’s … a subspecialty of ophthalmology with a different set of procedures and treatments,” he added.
Because Mattax-Neu-Prater did not have space available in its Springfield headquarters at 1265 E. Primrose St., Retinal Associates is in 4,500 square feet of space leased for an undisclosed amount from Martin Investment Services, Mattax said.
Startup costs of roughly $500,000 were covered by a loan from Commerce Bank.
“The equipment is very expensive,” Mattax said, noting that the practice had no issues with securing financing. “We’ve had a good working relationship with (Commerce) for a number of years. We’ve been very pleased with our partnership.” The care team
Mattax said Neu, who specializes in cataract surgery and performs some retinal care, practices with Retinal Associates part time, because he’s still involved with Mattax-Neu- Prater Eye Center, and Mehlhorn and Schwent are associates with the new practice.
Mehlhorn, an ophthalmologist specializing in vitreo-retinal care, has practiced medicine in Springfield, previously working with Eye Surgeons of Springfield Inc., 3800 S. National Ave., Ste. 500.
“I’m 62 years old, and I wanted to find a way to slow down a bit,” Mehlhorn said. “At the same time, it was a dream to have a separate retina clinic. This gave me the opportunity to still practice, but as it grows I will have help and can start to slow down.”
Schwent is a St. Louis native who graduated from medical school at St. Louis University. He completed an internship and residency at Emory University in Atlanta, where he also finished a vitreo-retinal fellowship and became a member of the faculty.
Schwent credits Neu – with whom he briefly worked during medical school – as a key influence in his interest in a retinal specialty.
“I knew I liked surgical procedures in medical school, but I wanted a specialty where I had a longer relationship with my patients than just one time,” Schwent said. “Retinal specialty is a field where I can do surgery and have a more lengthy relationship with my patients that is similar to primary care.”
While they focus on treating eye disorders, the doctors at Retinal Associates also perform surgeries on eye injuries and have privileges at both St. John’s and Cox, Mehlhorn said. Patient needs
While part of the reason Schwent relocated to Springfield is to be closer to family – wife Chelsea Sheppard is from the area and is expecting their first child – he also saw a growing demand for retinal coverage.
Some of that demand, Mehlhorn said, is driven by increased treatment options.
He said many of his patients have diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration, a condition that affects the area of the retina called the macula. According to www.mattaxneuprater.com
, the macula is responsible for sharp central vision required for activities such as driving and reading.
Some treatments, such as administering injections of drugs such as Lucentis or Avastin – can be performed in the clinic. First approved for use in 2006, the injections have an 85 percent success rate of halting the disease’s progression and a 50 percent rate of improving vision, Mehlhorn said.
Already, Retinal Associates is drawing patients from Joplin, northwest Arkansas, east Kansas and Oklahoma, and Mattax said the goal is to build patient volumes to at least 300 a month in the next six months to a year. Long-term-goals include adding another doctor and exploring the possibility of opening satellite offices in outlying Ozarks communities in the next three to five years, he said.
Georgia Taylor’s husband, Charles, is among the patients that followed Mehlhorn to Retinal Associates. For the past two years, Georgia Taylor has driven the couple to Springfield from their home in Baxter Springs, Kan., every six to eight weeks so that Mehlhorn can treat her husband’s macular degeneration, which affects both of his eyes.
Taylor said she’s glad to see more retinal-focused care in Springfield, which is about 85 miles from Baxter Springs.
“I’m glad there’s a specialized clinic. We would have to drive to Tulsa, two and half hours away, or four hours to Kansas City,” she said. “We don’t complain. It’s worth the trip. … My husband would be blind if we didn’t go.”[[In-content Ad]]