A true visionary

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Retired eye surgeon Dr. Russell Stodd has dedicated most of his life to helping those with visual impairments.

Dr. Russell Stodd has seen a lot of changes over the years. “Yes, it’s been a fun ride,” he said. “And it still is.”

Growing up in Portland, Ore., the now-retired eye surgeon says he never imagined he’d ever work with a scalpel. “I thought I’d go into physics,” he said.

Stodd joined the Marine Corps in 1949 and was on active duty for two-and-a-half years. After leaving the Marine Corps, he enrolled at the University of Oregon. There, he took a few physics courses, but quickly discovered it wasn’t his cup of tea.

So, he paid a visit to a counselor at what was then the university’s Veterans Administration Office, where he took an aptitude test. To his surprise, the results indicated he was a good fit for the medical field. “I scored 90 percent in the medicine category,” he said. “I went home and told my wife . . . we both knew it would be a serious time commitment, but she said ‘go for it,’ so I did.”

A few years later, after graduating from the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, Stodd began a rotating internship at Los Angeles County General. Initially, he wanted to specialize in obstetrics, but six weeks into his internship, Stodd changed his mind. “I didn’t think it was a good fit,” he said.

Retired ophthalmologist and classic car enthusiast Dr. Russell Stodd is the founder of the Aloha Surgical Center in Kahului.

Then, one afternoon, he watched a surgeon remove a man’s cataracts at the hospital. “I really liked it,” he said. “So I decided to take an elective in ophthalmology.”

In the years that followed, Stodd assisted with, and eventually performed, eye exams and eye surgeries — he’d found his niche. In 1960, he took his surgical talents to Panama, where he got his first taste of the tropics while treating Panamanians and U.S. service members. “Those were some of the best years of my life,” he said.

In 1973, Stodd, now a father of three, was running a successful eye surgery practice in Portland. That year, he flew to Maui for the first time to visit an old medical school classmate, Dr. William Hoskinson, an OB/GYN who had worked with Stodd in Panama. Months later, on a second trip to visit Hoskinson, Stodd decided it was time to make Maui his home. Eventually, the two men leased an office space in Kahului and opened a joint practice. It wasn’t long before Stodd recognized a need for an eye surgery center, so in 1985 he built the Aloha Eye Clinic, and soon after added a surgical unit.

Ten years later, Stodd took on a new project. “I had a dream that Maui should have an ambulatory surgical center that was freestanding,” he said. He envisioned a facility that would provide a much-needed alternative to having surgery at the hospital. “I wanted to open it up so doctors could do ambulatory surgery procedures and patients could go home the same day,” he explained. “I knew it would be a win-win for everyone.”

With that in mind, Stodd purchased a plot of land, drafted blueprints and applied for a certificate of need through the State Health Planning and Development Agency. “It was a very complex process; we jumped through a lot of hoops,” he said. “It took three years, but we pushed it through.” In 1999, Stodd’s dream came true: The four-room Aloha Surgical Center was open for business. “It’s the first of its kind on Maui,” Stodd said. “I’m very proud of it.”

Today, the same-day surgical care center in the heart of Kahului is still the only freestanding surgical facility on Maui. It offers a range of outpatient surgical procedures, including general surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, vascular surgery and eye surgery. When the center first opened its doors 17 years ago, Stodd says the surgical team was seeing up to 20 patients a week; now it treats up to 25 patients each day.

Stodd credits the success of the Aloha Surgical Center to its dedicated staff. “It’s a great team,” he said. Ask any of the longtime staff members and it’s likely they’ll tell you Stodd is the secret to the center’s success; he’s also a source of inspiration. “He’s an icon,” said Aloha Surgical Center operating room technician and purchaser Lori Pacheco. “He’s to the surgical center like the lion is to the MGM Grand.”

Since he began practicing more than 50 years ago, Stodd has helped countless patients with visual impairments and performed an untold number of procedures, including cataract, eye muscle, eyelid and eye extraction surgeries. In his mission to help others, Stodd, an avid aviator, would take his single-engine Beechcraft on weekly trips to Hana to visit patients there in the late 1970s.

He has lent his medical expertise to humanitarian organizations like Lalmba, which helps impoverished communities in Africa. In 1980, Stodd spent a month in a dusty Sudanese village performing eye exams and surgeries in a makeshift operating room set up in small house trailer. As a medical volunteer, he’s also treated patients in the jungles of Panama, the Yucatan Peninsula and the Amazon rainforest.

Stodd hung up his white coat in 2006 to become the Aloha Surgical Center’s medical director, a position he held until three years ago. Now in his 80s, Stodd still keeps an eye on things at the center. “I call myself the ‘laundry and morale officer,’ “ he laughed. “I stop by to visit just about every day. It makes my heart happy to be there.”

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer and instructor at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.