Some physicians dream of a lucrative career that will allow them to retire early.
Not Bruce Grene.
Parkinson's disease has forced the founder of Grene Vision Group into retirement at age 57, and he wasn't ready to go.
Grene was diagnosed seven years ago, though he says looking back he can see the signs started earlier.
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The La Crosse native has lived across the state but settled in Wichita after doing a corneal transplant fellowship at Harvard.
Today, Grene Vision Group has 42 doctors at 19 sites around the state.
Grene eventually limited his practice to consulting in refractive surgery and laser vision correction.
Finally, though, he had to give it up altogether.
"I'm just finding it more and more difficult to find the right medical cocktail formula," Grene said. "This is all textbook stuff. In the early stages of Parkinson's, it's just kind of an annoyance."
These days it's a different story.
"Some days I have trouble getting up out of a chair."
Dance lessons and snowboarding are what led to the realization you were sick?
"I was taking dance lessons with my wife, Mary. I was just terrible. I could only dance in one direction. She was looking at me like, 'What is wrong with you?' "
Your retirement has been a slow process, right?
"I've kind of approached it in stages. I quit surgery immediately. ... It was a very clear diagnosis, once we learned a little about it.
"Mary and I went out to the car after I was diagnosed. ... It took us five minutes to decide I would stop surgery immediately. I really didn't feel it was fair to anybody — the patients, but also my surgical team.
"In retrospect, I think that was the right way to go."
Eventually you dropped other duties as well?
"I've been out of the administration and the management ... for several years, and I sort of miss it."
You spent the first seven years of your career here working for the Eye Clinic of Wichita. Why did you want to go out on your own?
"I was a cowboy. I wanted to try a whole bunch of new things. I was fascinated by new technologies and kind of testing boundaries and seeing what sort of organization that could be built. Maybe (break) some new ground.
"I drove them crazy, and they were glad to see me go."
Until they came and joined your group, that is. Why did they change their minds?
"The model I had built is what's called an integrated model, and theirs was a traditional model, which is a referral-based model."
What is the integrated model?
"I wanted to refer patients into the care system through primary care providers and have that person work very closely with the downstream specialists so the care was as seamless as possible."
What are you most proud of in your career?
"I'm most proud of the commercialization of an artificial tear that we developed along with a company called Allergan. We took a formula to Allergan. It went on to become the largest-selling artificial tear in the world, and we touched a lot of people's lives by doing that. We had an impact on how a lot of doctors viewed dry eye. I feel like I made a difference."
And that made other things possible?
"We took the royalty from doing that and started the Wichita Eye Bank, which went on to become one of the most successful eye banks in the country.
"They ... procure corneal tissue from donors, and then it's used in corneal transplantation procedures."
Naturally, you're also proud of the development of Grene Vision Group?
"My partners are just damn good doctors. And I think that the organization I'm leaving is going to go on and continue to be one of the top in the country and one of the most prestigious practices in the country. I'm certainly very proud of that because that was a hell of a lot of work."
You had some help getting started and along the way, right?
"Without being maudlin, Wichita has been so incredibly good to me.
"What entrepreneurial success I had I learned from other people and their openness. I just can't say enough in praise of what a good business community this is in a sense of being open and inviting and supportive. And what a good medical community (it) is. And when you put those things together, I think anything is possible.
"The depth and the quality of the business community and their willingness to spend time with a young punk kid doesn't happen everywhere."
"In life if you zig, then you probably don't get to zag. If you take one path, it means you forgo a different path. That's just the way it is. Sometimes you look back and wonder what it might have been like to go down a different road.
"At times I wonder how it would have been different in a smaller organization.
"In a larger organization, it is always necessary to have consensus. In a smaller organization, consensus is less necessary."
That's not all your regrets, though?
"The thing I regret the most is getting sick. I like to wonder what my career might have been like if I hadn't gotten sick some 10 years ago. ... But that's just the way it goes."
What had been your plan if you hadn't gotten sick?
"I don't think I had a plan. I'm kind of a workaholic. I have some hobbies, but my doctoring has always been what I loved."
What are you looking forward to in retirement?
"Some simplicity in my life. Dogs and cats and gardening and cooking. I have two adult children. No grandchildren yet."
What's one thing few people know about you?
"I can think of hundreds of things. Not a thing I would like to share at this point."
Come on, there must be something.
"I was in ballet class at age 5, and I lasted for one recital because I saw what I looked like in a red leotard."
"Seriously. My mom had a dance school. ... She talked me into dancing and put me in a red leotard and white tights with all the ... girls. I was humiliated, and that was the end of my dance career."