By Vanessa Salvia

Dr. Bala Ambati is a cataract, laser eye surgery, and cornea specialist at Eugene’s Pacific ClearVision Institute (PCVI). He was 3 when his parents came to the US in 1980 for graduate school. Ambati started public school in South Carolina at age 6, but he advanced to second grade after two weeks and completed two years of school each year, graduating at 11. He completed a biology BA at New York University in two years, then an MD from Mount Sinai at age 17, earning distinction as the world’s youngest doctor. A residency in internal medicine at Beth Israel followed, then a Harvard ophthalmology residency, then a cornea fellowship at Duke.

Ambati taught at a medical school in Georgia, then moved to the University of Utah, where he became a tenured professor. That’s where he and his wife, Esther, met. “I had broken my shoulder snowboarding and I needed help with the copy machine,” he says. “I asked her out a few weeks later.” They married in 2015 and moved here in 2016. They now have two children, 3-year-old daughter Meera and 3-month-old son Kiran. Ambati joined Dr. Scott Cherne, who founded PCVI in 1989 and was a pioneer of the LASIK procedure in Oregon.

“Dr. Cherne was looking for a successor, so I worked for him for two and a half years and then bought the practice in July 2019,” says Ambati. He moved his research laboratory to the University of Oregon when the Knight Campus opened in 2020. There, he’s working on treatments for blinding diseases like macular degeneration and developing new corneal blindness drugs. His startup, iVeena, is developing an eye drop for keratoconus. “With keratoconus, the cornea starts bulging out because it’s structurally weak and then it can rupture, so we’re developing an eye drop to strengthen the cornea and stop the progression,” he says.

Although Ambati entered college at 11, he displays little ego about his achievements. “It’s really due to God’s grace, family support, and hard work,” he says.

Ambati traces his passion for medicine to an accident at age 4 that burned both of his legs. “Mom was boiling rice and I was curious,” he says. “I was in the hospital for three months. It was formative for me to see what doctors and nurses do. I liked biology, which helped.” Ambati enjoyed his rotations in internal medicine, general surgery, and pediatrics. “Ophthalmology combines all of those fields,” he says. “You can diagnose diseases by looking in the eye. Eye surgery involves very fine, delicate, precise maneuvers. And I love helping people see better.” The youngest patient Ambati has operated on was a premature 2-week-old baby, and the oldest was 98. “You’re never too old to see,” Ambati says. “Eye problems can affect anybody.”

Ambati’s team at PCVI is focused on compassionate, cutting-edge, individualized eye care. Core services are cataract surgery, LASIK vision correction, corneal transplants, and glaucoma management. “The latest thing that we’re proud to be adding here is the light adjustable lens,” Ambati says. “After healing from the surgery to add the lens is complete, you can adjust the patient’s vision without glasses.” That “really empowers the patient,” he adds. The practice will be moving to Chase Gardens in July. Ambati says it will be a newer, more modern, and more spacious location that will make patient care easier.

Ambati volunteers globally and has completed multiple trips with Orbis International, a nonprofit that treats preventable vision loss through training programs in developing countries. He also works with SightLife, which teaches corneal transplantation techniques in Asia and Africa. “Something like 42 million people in the world are blind,” says Ambati. “The majority of that is preventable or treatable, so the impact you have on people can be immediate and profound.”

Pacific ClearVision Institute

360 S Garden Way (in July)