ATPO Member Spotlight

Patti Christiansen, COMT
Cokingtin Eye Center, Overland Park, KS

Patti Christiansen, COMT

Please allow me to introduce our newest Member in the Spotlight, Patti Christiansen, COMT, from Cokingtin Eye Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Like so many of the technicians we have featured, Patti was in a different job, not looking for a new career, when a remark about the ophthalmic field got her attention. In Patti’s case, one of her friends met someone on a plane who had recently graduated from the School for Ophthalmic Technicians at the University of Minnesota. He told her about the training program and Patti was interested. She contacted the school, only to find that the classes for that year were full. She waited a year, applied, and was accepted into the program in 1984. She graduated in 1986, took and passed the COT exam, and was on her way down a new and exciting career path.

After working in Minneapolis for a year, Patti’s husband was transferred to Kansas City. Patti went to work at the Kansas University Medical Center as the clinical supervisor. While there, she worked with the pediatric ophthalmologist, and helped train the residents and technicians. At KUMC, Patti was instrumental in creating and coordinating technician continuing education courses and was also involved in the early years of the KCSee Continuing Education Program. In her “spare time”, she had her own JCAHPO approved COT Exam Preparation course and traveled on weekends to help technicians prepare for the written COT exam. When the COT Practical exam was still a hands-on test - not computerized - KU was a site for the evaluations. Patti was the Skill Evaluation Coordinator for the Midwest, scheduling the candidates and recruiting the evaluators.

In 1990, as Patti was getting ready to take the COMT written exam, her husband was transferred once again - this time to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In 1990, the written test was not computerized, and only offered once a year. The closest place to Abu Dhabi that offered the test was Saudi Arabia, but they would not let her travel there. So the JCAHPO office helped her find another place to Cologne, Germany! This was one determined technician. She went to Germany and, in the storage room of a hospital basement, she took - and passed - her COMT test. A month after taking her test, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Patti and her husband were in the US on a three week holiday when the invasion took place. The US Embassy recommended that they not return to the UAE, so Patti applied for and was offered her position back at KU.

Patti has been in her current position at Cokingtin Eye Center as a Technician and the Contact Lens Specialist for the past fifteen years. Here are Patti’s own words, describing the exciting work she is doing today:

I specialize in fitting patients with Keratoconus, Corneal Ectasia, Post PKP and Post Refractive Surgery. I use all types of lens designs with the most recent design being the Scleral Lens. I have had specialized training at Blanchard Contact Lab to fit their design of a Mini Scleral Lens. Through the years, we have seen countless patients who thought RK was going to be the long term answer to their refractive errors. Many of these patients are now suffering through high amounts of hyperopia and corneas that would never withstand any other refractive procedures. These are the perfect candidates for the scleral lens system. We have also all seen keratoconus patients who have exhausted all other avenues of vision correction and are searching for a quality of vision nothing else can provide them. We have been able to provide a new option to patients with limbal stem cell deficiencies from herpetic eye disease or severe dry eye. These patients are often leery about the ‘latest and greatest’ as they have been waiting for the next big thing that never really panned out. The scleral lens system has been a way of treating patients in a way they never hoped possible.

There are so many great things about my career path. From fitting a young, high myope with his first pair of contacts so he can play baseball, to fitting a middle schooler who has struggled for years in school only to find out she was a +5.00, to the patient who has bounced from doctor to doctor, hoping they would have the solution for them...and finally I do! While understanding the limitations contacts do have, the doors have been flung wide open with opportunities for patients who had thought their only option was glasses.

Patti is obviously dedicated to and passionate about her career. The ophthalmic community is lucky to have her and ATPO wanted to shine the spotlight on this remarkable technician.

Interviewed and written by Mona Carpenter, BS, COMT


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