Doctor's Passion for Cutting-Edge Tech Can Change Lives



Dr. Christopher Riemann

Photo by Tracy Doyle

 

Dr. Christopher Riemann remembers sailing into New York Harbor as a 4-year-old German immigrant in 1972, realizing his life was going to change forever. Now, the 49-year-old vitreoretinal specialist at Cincinnati Eye Institute has been affiliated with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country. He’s also traveled the world as a volunteer with the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, a nonprofit organization which treats patients and trains doctors in other countries.

“Orbis will identify local doctors in foreign countries that have, often times, excellent skills, but just need that little push to get them really facile and get them up to speed,” says Riemann.

Orbis’s aircraft, donated by FedEx, is a flying hospital equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment, an operating room and a recovery room.

“The idea is not to show off – it’s to show how. So when the plane goes gear up, doctors are left with lasting skills that endure. And that’s cool,” says Riemann, who has taught doctors in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Peru and the Philippines.

“Each was a unique experience where I met incredible people,” he says. “When you go and practice medicine somewhere, you get an understanding of the human condition that you don’t get as a tourist.”

Riemann’s passion for medicine is palpable; his excitement is contagious. But as a medical student, his passion bred indecision, not his drive to study ophthalmology.

“I loved everything; [my reason] isn’t glamorous. I just couldn’t decide,” says Riemann. That was until he was in surgery with a doctor who had a patient with a life-threatening complication.

“[The doctor] had to call for help. I will never forget the look on his face,” Riemann says. “I didn’t want to be the one making that phone call.”

Ophthalmology gave Riemann the opportunity to be on the other end of that phone call.

Riemann, a husband and father of three, has been with CEI since 1999 and he’s as busy as ever. He’s one of eight retina specialists at CEI, as well as the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine’s director of vitreoretinal
surgical fellowship and a volunteer professor in UC’s department of ophthalmology. He also attends global medical teaching conferences to share and learn different ways to treat eye disease.

CEI is one of the largest private ophthalmology practices in the country, with 16 offices in three states, several surgery centers, including one opening in Middletown in September, and seven surgical suites at the Blue Ash office. As a vitreoretinal specialist, Riemann cares for patients with a variety of retinal damage and disease, including: retinal detachment, hemorrhages, tears, holes, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

“It’s one of the blessings to be at CEI. We’re all in this patient-centric environment, so when the phone rings and the patient says, ‘Doctor, I can’t see,’ our job is to say, ‘Come on in,’” says Riemann.    

CEI also has one of the best ophthalmic residencies in the country.

“The only way you can learn medicine is to be in the trenches. Training is paramount,” he adds.

Riemann, who has been elected four times to CEI’s board of directors, says he has no intention of leaving. He says CEI has provided him with a platform to grow as a doctor and an academic.

“It’s given me a platform to play out my nerd gene that I have,” Riemann says, referring to his first love: biomedical engineering. It was his major at The Johns Hopkins University. He also conducted biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health.

Somehow, Riemann shows even more excitement when he talks about his role as a clinical investigator with CEI.

“For me, it’s a good fit because of my engineering background. Retina is extremely tech heavy. It’s as microsurgery as microsurgery gets,” he says.

CEI has had cutting-edge, 3-D HD surgical equipment since 2008. Riemann also developed a heads-up vitreoretinal surgery system. This allows doctors to go inside the eye and see things as small as one to four microns, such as a single, white blood cell.

“It’s really exciting and cool,” says Riemann, adding that the first digital surgery was performed at CEI.

He’s also currently involved in a groundbreaking study to treat dry macular degeneration, which was previously untreatable. Umbilical cord cells, which do not come from a fetus, are injected under the retina, providing nourishment to the retina.

Riemann and his team developed the procedure to deliver the cells into the eye. CEI is one of seven sites conducting the trial surgeries, and Riemann’s name is on the delivery system patent. The procedure works, according to Riemann, but the “jury is still out on the cells.”

“It looks like sci-fi to me. It’s part of the eyeball we couldn’t access before,” he says. “It’s a whole new way of treating eye disease.”

 

The Cincinnati Eye Institute is located at 1945 CEI Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45242. For more information, call 513.984.5133 or visit www.cincinnatieye.com.