Worth the drive

Dr. Marcia Miller-Hjelle and her husband Dr. Tom Hjelle understand the many challenges associated with biomedical research. Both enjoyed careers in science and academic medicine so they know how difficult it can be to secure funding for early-stage projects which can lead to discovery.

The two retired to a rural community in central Illinois after many years as teachers and researchers; she a microbiologist and he a pharmacologist.  An unfortunate change in vision health led the couple to seek eye care across state lines in Iowa.

In spring 2014 Tom Hjelle experienced decreased visual acuity in both eyes due to an Epiretinal membrane (ERM), also commonly known as cellophane maculopathy or macular puckers. ERMs can be associated with a number of ocular conditions such as prior retinal tears or detachment, retinal vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, or venous occlusive disease. ERMs can also be post-traumatic, occurring following ocular surgery, or be associated with intraocular (inside the eye) inflammation. For Hjelle, the condition left him with worsening vision as he sought alternatives to save his eyesight.

After multiple surgeries and interventions with local medical providers proved unsuccessful, the couple visited the Eye Clinic at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics for an evaluation. Impressed by the coordination of care and experience with ophthalmologists and staff in the Vitreoretinal Disease Service, the couple continued receiving vision care at UI’s eye clinic. Hjelle has received treatment and undergone several major eye surgeries, plus other non-surgical procedures since that initial visit. Throughout their journey, they have had the opportunity to learn about promising vision research taking place at the University of Iowa.

“My husband and I are both retired biomedical scientists, who have conducted research and taught in medical schools, both in the U.S. and Scotland. Interactions with Drs. (Karen) Gehrs, (Stephen) Russell, and others at UI Hospitals & Clinics revealed a cutting-edge knowledge of the biology, pathology, medicine, and treatments of eye diseases,” states Miller-Hjelle.

The couple believes in the motto, “Invest in the best” and has chosen to philanthropically support the department through the creation of the J. Thomas Hjelle Vision Excellence Fund and through their estate plan. The couple also understands the important legacy of their giving.

Miller-Hjelle shares, “My husband benefited from the research and innovations funded by those who came before. It often takes years to find new treatments. Who knows what our children, grandchildren, and everyone else will need for eye medicine in the future?” Coming from a neighboring state, she adds, “It really helps if the cure is within driving distance.”

Learn more about how you can advance research taking place at the University of Iowa by contacting katie.sturgell@foriowa.org / 319-467-3756 or visiting www.givetoiowa.org/eye

Marcia Miller-Hjelle

Dr. Miller-Hjelle (left) and Dr. Hjelle invested in vision research at the University of Iowa after receiving outstanding eye care for an ocular condition. The two learned about promising research taking place at the UI from retina specialist Dr. Stephen Russell.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020