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Alum saves former BHSU President Flickema’s eyesight

Author: BHSU Communications/Wednesday, August 28, 2019/Categories: Alumni, Campus Currents, College of Business and Natural Sciences, Community, Home News, Scholarships, 2019


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Dr. Nathan Steinle graduated from BHSU in 2001 and is now a surgical retina specialist and partner at California Retina Consultants.
Dr. Tom Flickema, who served as President of Black Hills State University from 1994-2006, still remembers the moment BHSU graduate, Dr. Nathan Steinle, walked into his exam room at Black Hills Regional Eye Institute.

It had been 13 years since the two last saw each other, when Steinle gave the honors graduation speech as the valedictorian of the Class 2001 and shook hands with President Flickema at commencement.

 Now, the two shook hands again, with a reassurance from Steinle that he could restore his university president’s eyesight.

“I remembered Nathan as soon as I saw him,” recalled Flickema. “He talked with me very carefully about what was going on with my eye and what needed to be done.”

Flickema arrived at the Black Hills Regional Eye Institute with painless loss of vision. The lens in his eye had spontaneously dislocated - a matter of medical urgency.
“It’s like wearing a pair of glasses and suddenly losing one of the lenses. Your vision becomes foggy and blurry,” said Steinle.

Quickly, Steinle and fellow Black Hills Regional Eye Institute physician, Dr. Stephen Khachikian prepared for surgery.

As a retina specialist, Steinle operates in the back space of the eye. Khachikian specializes in the anterior, or front, eye. With a combination case, the doctors hoped to give Flickema the best result with a single surgery.

“We needed to move fairly quickly,” said Steinle. “I retrieved the lens that had fallen into the retina space, cleaned up the lens, and then we placed it in a more favorable position.”

Flickema said the result of the surgery was superb, allowing him to continue to fully enjoy his retirement. A former history professor, Flickema likes to read British history and he visited England with his wife Judy, and friends, soon after his successful surgery. Flickema is also staying busy conducting what he calls an “amateur” research project about American bison. He works out at the Spearfish Rec and Aquatics Center daily, where he enjoys seeing many alumni and former faculty and staff from BHSU. 

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Dr. Thomas O. Flickema was chosen as the eighth president of BHSU in 1994. Under his watch, outside funding for the university grew exponentially. Flickema also led the University through a successful national accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission.
As President of BHSU, Flickema believed that the cornerstone of academic achievement rested upon the strength of the faculty and the diversity of the curriculum.

During Flickema’s tenure as President, the Joseph F. and Martha P. Nelson Scholarship, which awards $40,000 to a student over four years, was established. Steinle was one of the first recipients.

“It was rewarding to see one of the Nelson Scholars in his professional capacity. We wanted to attract outstanding students to the BHSU math and science programs with the Nelson scholarship, and Dr. Steinle is a great example of that success,” said Flickema.

Twenty-five full-ride Nelson scholarships have been awarded to BHSU students amounting to nearly $450,000 in scholarships. Former BHSU Nelson Scholars are working as physicians, physician assistants, and as K-12 teachers. 

Steinle said the Nelson scholarship was a generous support of his education that gave him the financial freedom to pursue medical school.

Following his graduation from BHSU in 2001, Steinle attended the University of South Dakota School of Medicine. He completed a surgical residency in ophthalmology at the University of Kentucky and his surgical retina fellowship at the renowned Cleveland Clinic. Steinle earned multiple awards for excellence during his surgical training. He was given the honor of being named Chief Resident in addition to earning the prestigious Wirtschafter award recognizing the finest resident teacher. During his fellowship, he was named the best fellow teacher while at the Cleveland Clinic where the Ophthalmology Department served as eye doctors for the pro-sports teams in Cleveland, including athletes such as LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. 

Steinle now lives and works in California where he is an ophthalmologist and partner at California Retina Consultants. His practice has 12 locations and 30 clinical trials enrolling at any given time. His days are spent in clinic, in the operating room, and conducting national research projects in ophthalmology. Living in coastal California, his patients include CEOs, migrant workers, and individuals of all ages with diabetes.

“The most rewarding for me is my work with young diabetic patients,” said Steinle. “They have a whole life of sight ahead of them and our decisions will affect them for the next 50 years of their life.”

Still maintaining a South Dakota medical license, Steinle fills in for his mentor Dr. Prema Abraham every few months at the Black Hills Regional Eye Institute in Rapid City.

Steinle provides the best medical care possible to all his patients. But when he saw Tom Flickema’s name on his patient list at Black Hills Regional Eye Institute, he knew it was an opportunity to shine.

“President Flickema is a great, thoughtful leader and was always the person I really looked up to during my time at BHSU. I remember hearing him talk and lecture and I admired him,” said Steinle. “It was an honor to be part of the BHSU extended family and make that personal connection with President Flickema once again.”
 
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