Southern Eye Center celebrates 30 years of service in Pine Belt

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Published: June 25,2007

Southern Eye Center opened in 1977 to bring a new and different dimension to the Pine Belt medical community. At that time, Hattiesburg had good general ophthalmologists, but patients with any unusual problems were sent to New Orleans or Jackson.

Founder Lynn McMahan, M.D., wanted to fill that void and offer the highest level of patient care. As the center celebrates 30 years of service, he said there’s still nothing else like it.

“We have more specialties under one roof than any other eye center,” he said. “When I started Southern Eye Center, I decided we had a real good medical community in Hattiesburg and needed specialists here. I wanted to offer patients the opportunity to stay close to home for their care.”

McMahan went off and did a fellowship for additional training and hired others who had also served fellowships. There are now six surgeons specializing in cataract, implant, retina, diabetes, eyelids, eye muscles, cornea, glaucoma and LASIK. In addition to McMahan, the surgeons include Jaime Jimenez, Milam Cotton, C. Byron Smith, Kiper C. Nelson and Francis Soans. Together they have 147 years of experience.

Southern Eye Center has its own surgery center, the first ophthalmologist-owned surgery center in the state. “To my knowledge, there’s not another one in the state,” McMahan said. “I haven’t been in a hospital in years. I would get lost there.”

More importantly, he said patients like not going to hospitals and having all their eye needs taken care of under one roof. Patients have the convenience of an office visit, special testing and procedures all in the same day.

“Hattiesburg is 90 miles from everywhere, so we needed a surgery center here,” he added. “Now, we’re getting a lot of patients from New Orleans and the Coast as those places don’t have enough doctors since the hurricane.”

The founder said Southern Eye Center has an academic setting and is like a university. The physicians do research, publish scientific papers and give lectures all over the country.

“Medical technology is rapidly being updated, and our surgeons take pride in offering our patients the latest advancements in diagnostic testing, management and treatments of most eye disorders,” he said. “With our combined surgical experience and the convenience of same day procedures, patients have the same opportunity to have the special services that are offered in major metropolitan areas right here in the Pine Belt area.”

Patients come from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. A patient recently flew in from Paris, France, to have LASIK performed by Dr. Kiper Nelson after seeing the center’s Web site.

The center has 85 employees on a staff that McMahan calls a great team. “They’re really important and we’ve been blessed to have them,” he said.

Southern Eye Center has won local and national awards for its service to patients and the community. Twice each year, it holds Make a Difference Day when free surgery is offered to individuals who need surgical procedures.

“We try to help people who have fallen through the cracks. Maybe they make too much for Medicaid and are too young for Medicare and are working hard,” McMahan said. “It was important to my dad to give something back to the community, and I was raised that way. I think everyone should do it.”

The center may be the only medical group to receive a Key to the City. It also won a Best Community Service Award from the governor and was featured on television’s “700 Club.”

To show appreciation for patients, the center has a patient party each year when a country band or gospel group entertains. This year in conjunction with the 30th anniversary, more than 700 patients enjoyed fried catfish from Mack’s Fish Camp and had music and karaoke.

“We like doing it, and the patients like it, too,” McMahan said. “We try to remember why we’re here.”

Not content to rest on 30 years of laurels, Southern Eye Center recently opened a new LASIK Center in addition to its certified ambulatory surgery center, and has a Harvard-trained eyelid surgeon coming onboard. Looking to the future, McMahan, who still handles 1,000 cases a year, would like to double the size of the office and bring in more physicians.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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