Barbara Brody sees brighter future for kids with vision ills

Barbara L. Brody, M.P.H., is a clinical professor of ophthalmology and family and preventive medicine as well as the director of the Center for Community Ophthalmology at the UCSD Department of Ophthalmology/Shiley Eye Center.

Her work integrates public health and community service with education and cutting-edge research in the psychosocial aspects of eye disease. The Save Our Children’s Sight/Eye Mobile program she developed has provided more than 80,000 low-income children with vision care. (


Additionally, Brody initiated several programs that have significantly improved the quality of life for elderly people suffering from macular degeneration. She has mentored numerous students, postdoctoral fellows and international scholars, offering them opportunities to participate in research or community programs.

Brody has been recognized for her work with awards and honors, including a U.S. Public Health Fellowship, a San Diego Health Care Champion Award, and UCSD Chancellor’s Associates Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Community Service.

What brought you to La Jolla?

We came in 1967 when my husband was asked to join the UCSD biology department, and I was very fortunate to become part of what was then UCSD’s department of community medicine.

What makes this town special to you?

La Jolla is unprecedented in being both a lovely seaside resort and home to a world-class university. What makes La Jolla special to me is all the beauty and vibrancy that this unique combination provides on a daily basis.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

Every day I am grateful to live in such a wonderful place. I would love to see even more stellar developments of our cultural life, including the museums, music and theater, while also protecting the charm and natural beauty we have. But, first and foremost, I would like to see each child obtain the education needed to fulfill his or her potential and become a contributing and responsible member of our community. Our children are 25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future.

Who or what inspires you?

What inspires me is the challenge to find opportunities to make it possible for more people to lead healthy and productive lives. That is why I am so excited about the potential of the UCSD EyeMobile/Save Our Children’s Sight program — it provides low-income children with vision care that will help them succeed in school and in life. I am also inspired by everyone who is dedicated to making our world better in some way by his or her good works and generosity.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

I would invite Helen Keller; Margaret Sanger, the family planning pioneer who said, “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother”; Abraham Lincoln; John Snow, a 19th century physician and medical detective who is the father of epidemiology, the scientific basis for understanding the causes and distribution of diseases; Maimonides, a medieval physician and philosopher who wrote on how to live and give; Albert Bandura, whose social cognitive theory has shown us how people can change their behavior to lead healthier lives; CC Wang, whose family were great scholar-landscape artists for 14 generations and who himself was a scholar, collector, dealer and innovative landscape painter; and my grandmother, who came to this country at age 13 as an orphan with her younger brother. She spoke five languages (but had never been to school) and taught herself to read, write and speak English without an accent. She worked in a liquor store during the Great Depression in order to make sure her daughter — my mother — had a college education.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

“Plagues and Politics” by Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D. This is the story of the United States Public Health Service that began in 1778 with medical care for the officers of the Navy and Marines and merchant seamen. I am just starting Shankar Vedantam’s “The Hidden Brain,” which is about how our unconscious minds shape political and economic choices, and why we are influenced by individual anecdotes rather than the big picture.

What is your most-prized possession?

My American citizenship because, along with great responsibilities, it provides tremendous opportunities and freedoms.

What do you do for fun?

I like to spend time with wonderful people — like my family and friends — enjoying the beach, dining out, attending cultural events, and just being in this beautiful place.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

I hope my greatest accomplishment will be seeing our successful Eye-

Mobile/SaveOurChildren’s Sight model program expanded to serve more children here in San Diego and in other communities in California, the U.S. and even around the globe. To date, more than 80,000 low-income preschool children have been served by the program, blinding eye problems have been prevented, and children have the vision they need for school success, all at no cost to their families. Our partnership with the community provides a comprehensive model program of vision screening at preschools, eye examinations of high-risk children in the EyeMobile at the school location, and glasses and follow-up as needed. We also offer parent education. The need for this program is great, and this is just the beginning; we could do so much more if we had the resources.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Have a positive attitude, aim high, work hard, never give up, learn from other people, always seek better ways to do something, take advantage of the opportunities you are given, and find beauty and joy in every day.