Dr. Wendy Marsh-Tootle smiling and holding a painted sign decorated with handprints which reads "The Pediatric Eye Clinic was built by the vision of Dr. Wendy Marsh-Tootle and the hands she helped lift to heights they never expected to reach".

The UAB School of Optometry proudly recognizes Dr. Wendy Marsh-Tootle as the 2015 recipient of the American Academy of Optometry’s William Feinbloom Award.

Established in 1983, this award is presented to an individual who has made both distinguished and significant contributions to clinical excellence, and to the direct clinical advancement of visual and optometric service.

Dr. Marsh-Tootle’s career has emphasized visual enhancement of children with vision impairments on a local, national, and international level.

“She has not only dedicated her life to the visual enhancement of children, Dr. Marsh-Tootle has instilled in each of us an unwavering work ethic and resilient dedication to clinical excellence, selfless service, and a commitment to carrying a character-driven legacy forward,” said Dr. Katherine Weise, director of the Pediatric Optometry Service. “When told by others that it is too difficult to be a triple threat - excelling in patient care, service, and research- we point to Dr. Marsh-Tootle.”

Although Dr. Marsh-Tootle's residency focused on care of adult veterans, it helped her become uniquely qualified to catch life- and sight-threatening ocular abnormalities in children. In toddlers, for example, she could distinguish healthy optic nerves from swollen nerves indicating papilledema and potential risk of brain damage no matter how fast they were flying by. When she discovered sight-threatening retinal detachment, she could not only identified the high risk, she would work closely with the surgeon to make sure access to care was feasible to all patients. The pediatric faculty and students of UAB Eye Care have had these unwavering character-driven traits and skills instilled in them for nearly three decades.

Dr. Marsh-Tootle served as the UAB Pediatric Optometry Service Director from 1994-2004. Under her leadership, the UAB School of Optometry developed innovative programs to reach thousands of children in the local area. In 10 years, “Preschool Peepers” screened more than 25,000 children, identifying not only eye conditions, but also systemic conditions like Marfan Syndrome. Dr. Marsh-Tootle incorporated other ideas into the clinic as well, such as a reduced-cost eye exam for children who received free or reduced-cost school lunches.

While her commitment to patient care has impacted the local community, her reach expands beyond. Dr. Marsh-Tootle has developed programs in Nicaragua to teach teachers how to perform pediatric vision screenings--and then returned herself to perform eye exams to make sure those children who did not pass were equipped with the best vision possible for the upcoming years.

Dr. Marsh-Tootle’s local and global impact through direct patient care and teaching is unmatched by most, but her research foresight is her super strength. It was her work with Dr. Tom Norton that laid the foundation for the Correction of Myopia Evaluation Trial (COMET), a cornerstone optometry study in the NIH. Of the four clinical sites, Dr. Marsh-Tootle’s UAB team had the highest enrollment among the centers, while also maintaining the highest retention rate (89%) after 14 years of participant follow-up. The COMET study will show differences in myopic young adults compared to non-myopic adults across ethnicities in macular thickness, RNFL, choroidal thickness, and central corneal thickness, which may provide insight into African American risk of glaucoma and increase awareness of testing in the young adult age group.

In 2004, Dr. Marsh-Tootle secured an NIH R01 to teach pediatricians how to enhance knowledge and attitudes regarding preschool vision screenings and pediatric eye conditions, and in partnering with a pediatrician from Children’s of Alabama, she created a web-based education program for pediatricians that is now accessible world-wide.

Dr. Marsh-Tootle retired in December of 2014. At her retirement gathering, she was presented with a painting that included a caricature of Dr. Marsh-Tootle and hand prints of her faculty, residents, students, and their offspring. The caption read “This pediatric optometry service was built on a vision by Dr. Wendy Marsh-Tootle and the hands she helped reach to heights they never expected.”

"This award is a tremendous honor for me and completely unexpected. I'd like to thank my colleagues who have all "caught the dream" to advance pediatric optometry. They are as deserving as I am, and they all know that progress is due to the combined effort from many individuals," said Dr. Marsh-Tootle.

The 2015 William Feinbloom Award will be presented to Dr. Marsh-Tootle during the upcoming American Academy of Optometry meeting this October in New Orleans.