by Len Lear
Gwenn Amos, 51, a Renaissance woman who lives in Ambler, somehow finds enough time in the same 24-hour day we all have to cram in numerous passions and skills. Amos, a Doctor of Optometry who works for The Eye Institute in Chestnut Hill, is also an assistant professor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Elkins Park, a musician (drummer), a marathon runner, a five-year survivor of stage III ovarian cancer, a public health expert (Master’s degree) who has volunteered her services in the mountain villages of Nepal, a church volunteer, an ice hockey team member who has scrimmaged with former players from the Philadelphia Flyers, and a soon-to-be certified Emergency Medical Technician. It would take a book to encompass all of her accomplishments, but we will try to condense it into a two-part series of articles:
Local: Where did you grow up and attend high school?
Amos: I grew up in Warminster, Bucks County, and attended William Tennent High School. I have a B.A. from Temple University in biology.
Local: What made you want to pursue a career as an optometrist and public health worker?
Amos: I was interested in pursuing a career in the medical field but didn’t want to be “married” to my career. My interest in public health developed after participating in several eye camps in developing nations including Nepal, South Africa and several countries in South/Central America. Often patients and their families go to great lengths and may travel for days to attend a screening. Of course they bring great hope with them. I wanted to learn how to plan and implement programs whereby our eye camps would make a more significant impact on at least a fraction of patients we can expect to come with the expectation that they can be helped to see better via cataract extraction. Additionally, there are many systemic diseases that have ocular manifestations such as diabetes and hypertension. So only providing eye screening without having a referral system in place for treatment of other diseases that are detected during an eye examination can be somewhat frustrating. (Dr. Amos earned her Masters in Public Health in 2009 from Arcadia U. in Glenside.)
Local: Why did you go to Nepal?
Amos: I have been to several villages in the mountains of Nepal. It is absolutely beautiful there. From a distance you can see how completely the people have terraced every bit of the mountain to grow corn and rice. I was there in 2001 and again in 2005, and we are planning another eye camp for November of this year, or perhaps spring of next year. These two trips were coordinated by a group called Pennsylvania United Medical Association (PUMA). Steve Simpson, the founder of PUMA, has done an amazing job first establishing an orphanage in Kathmandu, which has since grown to two homes, one for boys and one for girls. Additionally, he has, with the help of a strong and dedicated crew in Nepal in conjunction with teams from the U.S., built many health clinics and churches for people in remote villages. PUMA sends medical personnel to train local Nepalis in what we would consider basic health care. Did you know that there are more people in the world with access to cell phones than access to toothbrushes?
Local: What are conditions like in Nepal?
Amos: There is no running water in the villages and no electricity. You don’t need an alarm, especially if you’re sleeping in the same room with a chicken. He’ll know when to awaken you! The children just cling to you and don’t want to leave your side. I was really struck by this on the first trip until someone so clearly explained that “they don’t have things, but they have each other.” So, I quickly adapted to traveling with an entourage and tried to think of games we could play where we didn’t need to speak the same language. There is an amazing maturity among children of even a very young age. Children at the homes are taught early to clean up after themselves. At the age of even 3, they wash their own plate and have chores like sweeping the floors after meal time. There is virtually no-to-very limited health care in the villages. A trip to Nepal is approximately two weeks because of the flight time and the hiking time to and from one or two villages. This would be considered a very short-term trip.
Local: Can you tell us something about your husband?
Amos: I have been married for 11 years to Mark E. Street, who is also an optometrist. Mark was in business with his father, Richard Street, as an auto mechanic. Shortly after we married, his father suffered a severe disabling stroke. Mark had decided to sell the business. During the winter of 2003 we were visiting Melissa Trego, a fourth year student, in Alaska. Melissa has since earned her OD and PhD degrees and holds the position of Associate Dean for the Foundations of Optometric Medicine at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. She suggested that Mark go into optometry, and I suggested that she, well, mind her own business. But the seed had been sown. The best part of the story is that Mark must have simply gleaned how much I enjoyed optometry because I never tried to persuade him to select optometry over any other “second” career. Mark completed his program in 2010, graduated from a primary care residency program in 2011 and is now teaching optics and ophthalmic lasers and is one of the best clinical instructors at the college. Mark also recently joined the Wissahickon Fire Co. If he is home, and the siren blows, he goes on the call. Some firefighters respond only to fire calls, but Mark and a dedicated core group of men and women respond to every call they can.
Local: What does your work with The Eye Institute in Chestnut Hill consist of?
Amos: My work at The Eye Institute (TEI) is a happy blend of teaching students how to conduct an eye examination in the clinical skills lab, how to develop the cognitive skills to make diagnoses of visual/optic disorders as well as ophthalmic and systemic diseases and how to manage all of those conditions. I’m also a clinical preceptor, working with students in a patient care setting. One day a week I provide direct care to patients at the Chestnut Hill clinic. It is amazing to work closely with students during the early part of the program when they are just learning how to conduct an examination and what their findings mean and to see how their skills develop along with their confidence.
Local: What do you do in your leisure time, if you have any?
Amos: Right now I don’t have much leisure time at all. I’m really quite a bore about studying and practicing for EMT (her Emergency Medical Technician certification). It’s important for me to attend church, and I volunteer in the audio/visual department. Walking and running are always good for helping get problems worked out in one’s mind and are healthy for the body. I enjoy both as well as gardening. Drum lessons are on hold right now, which I’m sure pleases the neighbors. In April of 2012 I completed the Gettysburg North-South Marathon, and next month will be the five-year anniversary of being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. As the Bible says, life is like a vapor. Anytime we have an opportunity to be the hands or feet of the Lord to others, that is our service to Him.
For more information about Dr. Amos, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-276-6158.
— Continued next week (with Dr. Amos’ ice hockey exploits).