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Prosthetic eye-making has become labor of love for technician

By Paul Bello, National Museum of Health and Medicine

SILVER SPRING, Md. - The history of prosthetic eye-making and the delicate process involved with this procedure headlines the National Museum of Health and Medicine's (NMHM) upcoming Medical Museum Science Café, which will take place Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015 from 6 – 7 p.m. The presentation, "Making Them Whole: Ocular Prosthetics," will be led by Louis Gilbert, anaplastologist at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).

Gilbert, who previously served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, is also a dental technician for the Department of Defense. He received training in maxillofacial prosthetics while attending the Navy's Postgraduate Dental School in Bethesda, Maryland. It was there where he developed a fondness for making prosthetic eyes. His talent for creating something out of nothing began long before that.

"I've always had a passion for art. Ever since I was a kid, whether it was drawing comics, or commercial art, such as still life, self-portraits or water colors," Gilbert said. "I'm still doing art 30 years later. It's been personally rewarding. I wouldn't want it any other way."

As an anaplastologist, Gilbert believes it's important to be mindful of the expectations patients have. Of course, he added, it's equally important for patients to know his expectations on the outcome, as well.

Typically the process for making a single prosthetic eye takes about eight hours from start to finish, according to Gilbert. Three hours of the patient sitting in a chair, with the other five hours dedicated to sculpting, polishing and finishing the eye. During this stage he also focuses on eye color, as well as making sure it's a good fit to the patient.

Even with trauma cases, Gilbert admits he can get a pretty good product that will restore a patient's natural appearance. He plans on including several recent examples of his work during his presentation at NMHM.

"People often ask about movement. Prosthetic eyes only move 65-75 percent of the time. Though, in some cases, there's no movement at all," Gilbert said. "I don't believe the public knows much about the process that's involved with eye-making, so I'm really looking forward to a discussion like this. I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

NMHM's Medical Museum Science Cafés are a regular series of informal talks that connect the mission of the Department of Defense museum with the public. NMHM was founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862 and moved to its new location in Silver Spring, Md. in 2012. For more information, visit www.medicalmuseum.mil.