Meet Our Newest Directors
With Usha Arunachalam’s profesional background in business development, the skill sets she brings to her role as a new member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Vision Foundation are well suited for PVF’s current focus on fostering the launch of The Eye Institute. Deeply experienced with strategic planning, comfortable with the ambiguities inherent in start-ups, and committed to service, Usha is a welcome addition.
Raised in Madras, India, as the youngest of five sisters, she is now an American citizen. Asked why she responded affirmatively when Dr. Spivey invited her to join the Board, she answered, “It’s every citizen’s responsibility to give back and try to make a difference. This is how you say thank you.”
Ms. Arunachalam has a wide educational background: an undergraduate degree in Nutrition Dietetics and Food Service Management; Masters in Biochemistry from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, India; Ph.D. in Biochemistry from both the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and a Masters of Business Administration from The Anderson School at UCLA.
Usha is currently Vice President for Business Development, at ProLynx, LLC, a start-up located in Mission Bay that is developing a technology that extends the half-life of proteins, peptides and small molecules. She also continues to consult with her former employer, The Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Still, with all those responsibilities, Usha makes time daily for two hours of practice as a singer of Indian classical music which she considers a meditative art. She said of it, “It is an expression of me. I want it for my soul.”
Usha is married to Sriram Viswanathan, whom she met while they were both students at the Indian Institute of Science. Among many other professional and volunteer roles, he is a member of the Board of Directors of The Aravind Eye Institute, whose business model and commitment to serving the underserved is a primary source of inspiration for The Eye Institute being launched by PVF. Ms. Arunachalam and Mr. Viswanathan have one grown son and they live in Hillsborough, CA.
Eric W. Spivey is the son of PVF founder Dr. Bruce Spivey; however that is not the main reason he was invited to join the Board of Directors. “I’m aware of the optic,” Eric said with a laugh and a bit of a pun intended, “and it is certainly an honor to be involved with something that means so much to my father. That being said, having experience building strong and successful organizations, I plan to contribute those skill sets to PVF.”
Eric is co-founder and Chairman of TransDM Pty Ltd. and TransDS, LLC, next generation providers of data technology solutions in Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe. Previously, he served as Chairman and CEO of Webroot Software, Inc., Brightmail, Inc., NetGravity, Inc., and Netcom Online Communications Services, Inc. Prior to entering the internet sector, Eric led businesses in Asia-Pacific and Latin America for Dun & Bradstreet Information Services. He began his corporate career at the headquarters office of The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation (D&B) in New York City followed by time in the Chicago area with A.C. Nielsen Co., a subsidiary of D&B at that time.
Non-profit board involvement has been a part of Eric’s life since 2004. He is Chairman of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. Eric and Julia Child met in Santa Barbara in the early 1980’s, happened to share the same birthday, and developed a close friendship over the last four years of her life when they both moved back to the Santa Barbara area in 2000.
Eric was born in Iowa, raised in the Bay Area, and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He worked in the wine and food industry in California before earning a Master of Business Administration in from the University of Texas at Austin.
He and his wife Cynthia live in Santa Barbara, feeling relatively settled down compared to an earlier phase when Eric’s work caused them to relocate many times. As Eric put it, “We made 14 moves in 12 years, and had three kids in three different countries in less than four years.” Their two daughters and one son are now in their twenties.
With kids to visit combined with exploring a new San Francisco-based start up and, of course, his role as a board member with the Pacific Vision Foundation, Eric anticipates spending increasing amounts of time in the Bay Area. PVF welcomes Eric Spivey to the board.
Rona Z. Silkiss, M.D., FACS brings academic and surgical excellence, dedication to the CPMC Ophthalmology Residency Program and strong belief in the future of The Eye Institute to her role as a member of our Board of Trustees. Dr. Silkiss, a highly regarded oculoplastic surgeon in private practice throughout the Bay Area and the current Chief of the Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive and Orbital Surgery Division at CPMC was elected to the board in September, 2015.
Dr. Silkiss was raised in New York City, and attended the Bronx High School of Science. She attended Northwestern University in Chicago for a combined six-year program to obtain her B.S. and M.D degrees. After graduating at the top of her class with honors, Dr. Silkiss completed her pediatric training at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and The New York Hospital. She subsequently completed her ophthalmology residency at The Jules Stein Eye Institute, followed by a fellowship there in Ophthalmic Plastic, Reconstructive, and Orbital Surgery.
When asked how she chose her subspecialty, Dr. Silkiss replied, “Choosing a specialty is an evolution; there’s rarely an ‘aha’ moment. I started my career as a Board Certified Pediatrician, but was drawn to the precision and technology of Ophthalmology. While completing my residency at The Jules Stein Eye Institute, I was inspired by my professors, particularly in the field of ophthalmic plastic surgery. This subspecialty is the nexus of artistry and technicality in ophthalmology. Oculoplastic surgery is my life’s work. It is challenging, fulfilling and a wonderful blend of science, art, technology, and humanity.”
After completing her training in 1987, Dr. Silkiss chose to start her private practice in San Francisco. It was challenging as a newcomer – and a woman – but she worked hard, volunteered at hospitals (a lot), and expanded her practice with the referrals from her peers. She now has multiple offices throughout the Bay Area and is recognized by her colleagues as a leader and contributor to her profession. Dr. Silkiss was recently inducted as a member of the American Ophthalmological Society, a prestigious honor. Her acceptance thesis was based on research funded by PVF. Dr. Silkiss has received two merit awards from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and serves on numerous committees for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery and the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Silkiss is on the editorial board of several peer reviewed journals. Although she is in private practice, her list of publications and lectures are as extensive as a full time academic. Dr Silkiss is very proud to have mentored Dr. Ako Takakura, the first woman to take the research prize (twice!) in the history of the Barkan Society!
Knowing she wanted to teach and be attached to an academic community, Dr. Silkiss chose to affiliate with CPMC’s Ophthalmology Residency Program nearly thirty years ago. The faculty all share a love of teaching but it’s a demanding schedule: Dr. Silkiss and others each volunteer as much as 1,000 hours a year, which in this age of medicine is not sustainable. One of her goals on the PVF Board is to solidify the funding for teaching and education to ensure the future of the department and the training of the next generation of ophthalmologists.
Dr. Silkiss was the first doctor to open an office in the 711 Van Ness building which is destined to be the future home of The Eye Institute. Asked how she made that decision, Dr. Silkiss replied, “The Eye Institute will be a Center of Excellence for the community with the residency program, faculty practices, operating rooms, and research all under one roof. We will be able to provide excellent and efficient patient-centric care, and collaborate on research and innovation.” She continued, “The Eye Institute is composed of a terrific group of incredibly smart people, all pulling in the same direction. The Institute will unify our collective energy, intellect, and enthusiasm. This is an exciting time for our department.
Rona lives in San Francisco with her husband, Neil Jacobstein.
Vernon G. Wong, MD brings the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley, where he has established himself over the last two decades as a groundbreaking entrepreneur in the rapidly evolving industry of pharmaceutical technology. He also brings unique insights from extensive experience in academia, research and business, which will inform and enhance our philanthropic mission to infuse the sphere of ophthalmology with fresh ideas that advance the field.
Drs. Bruce Spivey and Wayne Fung invited their respected colleague Dr. Wong to join the board because his technological and entrepreneurial know-how will supplement the Board’s largely clinical makeup with a perspective formed by translating ophthalmological science into successful commercial applications that solve real-world problems for millions of people around the globe. In the early 1990s, Dr. Wong was immersed in the research side of ophthalmology when he realized that the field wasn’t advancing as fast as it could, and decided to use his vast experience to move it forward more quickly. So he co-founded Visionex and Oculex Pharmaceuticals, the latter of which merged with Allergan Pharmaceuticals in 2002. In 2003 he founded Ramscor, and then Icon Bioscience Inc. (IBI) in 2005.
Dr. Wong is currently Chairman of IBI, where he and his team create and market medications and drug delivery systems that have proven extremely effective in treating a wide array of eye disorders. For instance, at Oculex, he invented Ozurdex®, an FDA-approved biodegradable time-release implant for the treatment of macular edema correlated with retinal vein occlusion that is now in worldwide distribution.
Dr. Wong and his team also invented the delivery system for this and other drugs: Novadur®. This is a pen-like device with a needle on the end, a triggering button on top, and a lever on the side that administers solid polymer medication pellets that last anywhere from three months to over one year. As Dr. Wong points out, “This is a much more efficient treatment than eye drops, which must be applied four or five times a day because drops don’t get medication directly into the eye. Injecting a pellet into the anterior chamber and vitreous cavity is more effective because it’s far more convenient for patients and doctors, and results in much better clinical outcomes.”
At Visionex, Dr. Wong and his team introduced another revolutionary technological advance that is still in widespread use today: the Schirmer Color tear strip, which measures eye dryness. It looks like a combination ruler-thermometer that, when inserted under the lower eyelid, enables doctors to easily determine the dryness level by looking at the calibrated color dye strip. This enables ophthalmologists to determine the type and dosage of medication needed to treat patients with dry eye syndrome.
In addition to his impressive achievements in the business realm, Dr. Wong has held many prestigious academic positions, been responsible for significant scientific advances in the field of eye care, earned numerous awards and served on the Nobel Prize Nominating Committee.
Dr. Wong, a Pennsylvania native, is proud to be on PVF’s Board of Directors because “CPMC is one of the three big players in the Bay Area, along with Stanford and UCSF, and PVF can take a leadership role in this enterprising region that has become very significant in terms of technological innovation. I am hopeful that ophthalmologists can do more work outside of the constraints of academia so we can bring new and improved eye care products to the marketplace, and that PVF will foster that. There is so much going on in the field, so being part of a nucleus of people who are dedicated to the good of the profession and ophthalmological science is a great honor.”
Ellen Jamason, an attorney in Menlo Park, California, has long been active in community service, most recently on the board of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. When she termed off the board after seven years, including 18 months as chair, Pacific Vision Foundation’s board was a natural fit.
Having worked with PVF as counsel for aspects of the new Eye Institute project, “I was very impressed with the commitment and qualifications of its members,” she said. “I also became particularly interested in the goal of providing affordable eye care to those of limited means. I find PVF’s aspiration to serve large volumes of patients without regard to their ability to pay inspiring.”
Founder of Jamason Law PC, a boutique law firm focusing on business and real estate, and Managing Director of Common Bond Capital Partners, LLC, a real estate investment firm, Ellen nonetheless has medicine “in my blood.” Her father is a retired primary care physician, her sister an ophthalmologist and her niece a medical student at Stanford. What’s more, she said, “my daughter Marley was certified as an EMT before graduating from college, and is thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner.”
The PVF Board of Directors includes members from the ophthalmology field as well as other areas of expertise who are at the top of their respective professions and bring their special knowledge to the table. Ellen’s extensive set of qualifications also include serving as a partner at two top national law firms and as an executive at Cisco Systems. Before attending law school, she worked as Deputy Director at the National Security Agency.
With her experience on the Habitat board, Ellen looks forward to contributing to the development of effective fundraising messaging as PVF cultivates philanthropic support to take the organization to a new level with the launching of The Eye Institute. “Habitat was in a period of transformation during my board tenure,” she explained. “We’d set a ten-year strategic vision, and just as we launched it, Governor Brown eliminated the California Redevelopment Agencies, which were our primary source of land and funding. So we had to reinvent the way Habitat did business and delivered services by finding creative solutions to this region’s expensive real estate challenges. We did this by leveraging the innovative mindset of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The Eye Institute will require the same ingenuity and drive, and I hope to help in that effort.”