The gift is the largest ever received by the department, which will now operate and expand its patient care, educational programs and services, and clinical research projects and activities under a new name: the Kittner Eye Center.
A ceremony to officially launch the new name is planned for June 12.
“Our future is much brighter now,” said Dr. Travis A. Meredith, chair of the department of ophthalmology. “The need for ophthalmology services is increasing, and this endowment will help us provide even more advanced and technologically sophisticated services for our patients.
“The entire UNC faculty and staff are extremely grateful for this historic gift. This marvelous generosity will enable us to be ever more successful in our missions of teaching, research and serving all of the people of North Carolina,” said Meredith, who is also the Sterling A. Barrett Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology.
Kittner graduated from UNC in 1939 with a business administration degree and now practices law in Philadelphia. In addition, he has two brothers, three nieces and two nephews who all have degrees from UNC. Kittner said he has a strong love for Carolina, and learned the value of good vision after witnessing how various members of his family and others benefited from advanced eye care. "I thought that the gift would be a great way to help people well into the future,” Kittner said.
Previously Kittner and the Samuel and Rebecca Kardon Foundation – a charitable foundation based in Philadelphia, Pa. – have given more than $300,000 to various components of the university, primarily to the Rose and Louis Kittner Scholarship Fund, which provides need-based scholarships for undergraduate students.
Annual expendable funds earned from the endowment will be used for patient care projects such as the purchase of state of the art equipment, technology, clinical research, education and other focused projects. The specific use of funds will be approved annually by the department’s chair.
The goal of the ophthalmology department’s research and education activities is to increase knowledge of patient care options that will ultimately lead to improved vision or cures for blinding eye diseases, while at the same time training the next generation of ophthalmologists. Major multicenter national clinical trials are currently underway at UNC on diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity. The department is also pursuing internationally recognized translational glaucoma research, with the goal of improving patient care after testing new discoveries in clinical trials.
Patient visit numbers per year for eye care at UNC have more than doubled from 1993 to 2007. The needs for ophthalmologic care are expected to continue increasing as more baby boomers retire and North Carolina’s population continues to grow. Over the next three to four years, it is estimated that annual patient visits will increase by more than 25 percent.