Using Touch – Not Sight – to Treat Patients

Jeffrey Gazzara, DO, has always wanted to practice medicine.

jeffrey gazzara south jersey“My mom always instilled it in us that school is important, and we need to work hard,” Gazzara, 27, says. “I was always very math and science-oriented, and in high school I started to think, ‘Yeah, I want to go to med school.’ I just wanted to make my mom proud.”

This despite the diagnosis of retinis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that gradually reduces vision and can ultimately cause blindness, that came when Gazzara was just 12.

“I was playing baseball, and we were trying to catch fly balls at night and I just couldn’t see them,” Gazzara, a Bellmawr native, says.

The symptoms began with trouble seeing in the dark, and by college he’d lost a lot of his peripheral vision. He now has trouble reading computer screens and navigating at night. He says it’s difficult for him to see contrast or read his textbooks.

None of that, however, stopped Gazzara from graduating from first the University of Pennsylvania and then from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Gazzara’s specialty is neuromuscular medicine, and with most injuries his patients present with, vision is largely unnecessary.

“I’m trained in manipulative medicine,” Gazzara says. “So most people come in with back pain, shoulder or neck pain. I can put my hands on them and get their skeleton in line. I can feel the areas that bother them and diagnose them just as well as someone without a visual impairment. I picked my specialty because I’m comfortable with it, and my patients can see that and it makes them comfortable, too.”

Gazzara is deeply passionate about causes that support the visually impaired community, serving as the spokesman for the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ VisionWalk Philadelphia.

This year’s VisionWalk, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 8 at Independence National Historical Park, will raise money for blindness research and provide support to people with conditions like Gazzara’s.

“Raising money for research is important,” he says, “but I also think it’s so vital to raise awareness. People see me with my cane and they automatically think I’m blind, and they make assumptions about what I can or can’t do. I enjoy speaking at the VisionWalk, and I think I’d like to speak at high schools, too, just to tell people it’s about confidence and hard work. Whatever your obstacles – whether it’s a physical disability, a financial hardship or just the things that other people will put you through – you can overcome them. If you really want something, and you put the effort in, you can be anything you want to be.”

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