Revered UMKC professor, clinician honored by family

A recent contribution to the UMKC Foundation from the family of former School of Medicine faculty member Larry Pibenga, M.D., will support a research study on corneal calcification, led by Peter Koulen, Ph.D., endowed chair and co-director of vision research.

Colleagues who knew Larry Piebenga, MD, speak of him with true regard as both a mentor and role model for medical research, education and patient care.  A legendary ophthalmologist and teacher at UMKC, Piebenga was a pioneer for developing cornea and cataract therapies.

“Many of the ophthalmology techniques used today were first developed and implemented in clinics by Dr. Piebenga,” says Peter Koulen, PhD, UMKC professor and the Felix and Carmen Sabates Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research. “Our faculty members still try to emulate him.”

Dr. Pibenga

“Dr. Piebenga was my mentor during my residency at UMKC,” says Timothy Walline, MD, assistant professor in UMKC’s Department of Ophthalmology. “His calm, caring manner inspired me then, and not a week goes by that I don’t fondly recall something he taught me. His sincere approach to each and every patient has been my guidepost in 25 years of practice and academic endeavors.”

“He always did the right thing no matter what the work involved was and cared for every patient no matter who they were,” says Abraham Poulose MD, FACS, associate professor in UMKC’s Department of Ophthalmology. “I have aspired to live my life, both personally and professionally, to the example that he set.”

In memory of Piebenga, his family has made a contribution to the UMKC Foundation to support a research study on corneal calcification, led by Koulen. The basic science study hopes to find ways of more precisely assessing corneal calcification and determining how changes that occur from the condition affect the ability to accurately diagnose eye diseases.

“This is potentially a high-impact study that affects the outcome of many patients,” says Koulen. “By properly diagnosing their condition, we can work to develop new therapies for eye diseases that affect patients’ vision.”

Koulen said he is excited that Piebenga’s family is making this gift to honor his legacy and hopes it inspires others to honor their loved ones with similar tributes.

“Dr. Piebenga was a true advocate of research funding and he put that commitment into action,” says Koulen.  “As an avid philanthropist, he supported vision research at the UMKC Foundation, and the family’s gift showcases the mindset of Dr. Piebenga – that research is essential to our mission.”

He says their contribution also fills a critical gap for research funding as public funds are very competitive and are dwindling. “Donor gifts for small, initial studies such as this can lead to major funding for larger studies down the road,” he says.

“Research hinges on new discoveries, and philanthropy is a critical key in this process.”