MAJ Thomas Zampieri Video (Text Version)
2019 VRP Programmatic Panel Member Vignette
Title: Restoring Hope for Service Members with Eye Trauma
MAJ Thomas Zampieri (USA Ret.), PhD, PA; Blinded Veterans Association
I was an Army Medic from 1972 to 1975, and then I left active duty and I spent 21 years as a physician assistant before my vision condition disqualified me medically from continuing in the military.
I had a degenerative retinal condition that gradually got worse, and by the time I was about 45 years old, I was legally blind.
I ended up in Washington, DC, from April of 2005 to November of 2013 as the Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association.
When I left my position, I got a phone call to be on the Vision Research Program as a stakeholder or as a consumer representative, and so I’ve been on the panel now almost 5 years.
The Programmatic Panel looks for ways to mitigate—find new treatments for—penetrating eye injuries on the battlefield—translational research. We’re looking at funding grants that can have a more immediate impact, so things that may in 3 to 5 years be deployable versus some basic research, and then other types of research grants that may take 10 to 15 years before you actually get a deliverable result that can change your current treatment.
Being on the programmatic review panel, it gives me a lot of ability to see what’s going on in regards to corneal research or retinal research or optic nerve regeneration—some things like the retinal chip and an artificial cornea.
I think heading into the area of neuro/nano technology devices suddenly being part of the eye and vision system is something that is exciting, but it’s great to interact with the—the specialists in these areas also. It’s very fulfilling, you know for me personally, to understand what is going on and know the impact that it will have for our Service members and for our Veterans who suffer from eye trauma-related injuries or traumatic brain injuries with vision disorders.
A lot of my friends who are Army Veterans and Marines and that served in Iraq and Afghanistan that had devastating blast eye injuries—I tell them, “You know, someday these things that we approve funding for through the VRP will probably start to have a direct impact on them.” And that is probably one of the most rewarding parts of being able to participate in—in the VRP.
For the 9 years that I was in Washington, DC, I used to go out and do peer support visits at Walter Reed. And the sheer magnitude of being 24 years old, and you’re told, “Well, we tried to operate three times on your eye in Iraq and then in Landstuhl and then here, and there is just so much damage to the tissues that we just can't restore your eyesight.” And it is a tremendous shock emotionally. And so, through the VRP and our efforts here, we hope that we can meet with those individuals and say, “This may prove to be a new way to restore some of that vision that you lost.”