Science can explain many fundamental functions of the eye, but the miracle of converting light into vision remains a mystery.
Light enters the eye through the cornea, passes through the lens and finally strikes the retina at the back of the eye. Converted into electrical signals, light then reaches the brain through the optic nerve and, somehow, produces an image.
“We have no idea how that’s converted into the perception of vision,” says Dr. E. Bruce DiDonato ’76, a board-certified optometrist who specializes in the medical management of glaucoma. “We're still learning that.”
DiDonato developed his keen interest in vision while studying mammalian pigment cells as an undergraduate in the science labs of Rider University. “The eye is an area in the body that is the most complicated to understand, and the most wonderful,” he says.
After earning his bachelor’s, DiDonato completed his doctorate work at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, where he was awarded the Leslie Mintz Foundation Scholarship for two years. He went on to work at the Navy Medical Center and the Eye Institute of Philadelphia. In 1981, he founded the Campus Eye Group & Laser Center in Hamilton, N.J., where continues to serve as president.
Last year, Campus Eye conducted about 8,000 surgeries and treated about 30,000 patients. Over the years, the group has performed about 200,000 procedures in total, with cataracts being the most popular at 40 percent of the total. As president, DiDonato ensures that the group achieves its mission of providing the highest-quality eye care in a cost-effective manner while minimizing patient risk.
Through 30-plus years of working with patients, DiDonato has observed how a lack of scientific understanding, especially as it relates to medicine, can harm individuals. He notes that those who understand how disease occurs are better equipped to prevent it. “The knowledge of how to treat, and prevent, a chronic condition can have a major impact in promoting a happy and longer life,” he says.
To help equip a new generation with a strong scientific foundation, DiDonato became the lead donor to the Science and Technology Center Building Renovation Project. The 8,378-square foot renovation project consists of eight newly renovated, science-focused instructional spaces inside the original building constructed in 1961. The work will impact about 1,000 students annually.
“Dr. DiDonato is among Rider’s most generous and impactful donors,” says Jonathan Millen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “His leadership gift to the Project has inspired many others to make their contributions. As an optometrist, he understands the need for state-of-the-art instructional spaces to train the next generation of medical, healthcare, and science professionals.”
DiDonato joined Rider’s Board of Trustees in 2010. Around that time, he noticed that more undergraduates were entering the workforce lacking a solid foundation in science. “I think universities need to do a better job in graduating students with a strong fundamental science education so they can make important choices in their lives,” he says.
Choosing Rider is a theme that has persisted throughout DiDonato’s life. His father enrolled in the college, and though he never graduated, his experience at Rider played a major role when it came time for DiDonato to choose an institution of higher education. Today, his son, Ryan, is a junior at Rider.
Perhaps most importantly, DiDonato, who was inducted into the Science Hallway of Fame in 2011 for his achievements in the field of optometry, remains in touch with the faculty members who helped him discover his passion more than 40 years ago. Dr. Tom Mayer, former chair of the biology department, and Dr. Robert Simpson, a professor of embryology and comparative anatomy, encouraged the young scientist when his greatest responsibility was not conducting surgery but maintaining the house colony of mice used in basic research.
DiDonato recalls, “When I was a student, being a biology major was all-encompassing, it was very challenging.” His professors helped him out in more ways than one. From time to time, they provided DiDonato, who would go on to spend decades of his life giving back to Rider, with a gift of their own: a free, homemade dinner.