On the job.
Peter J. Kazanovicz
Owner, Monoplex Eye Prosthetics, 54 Main St., Sturbridge
Residence: Francestown, N.H.
Family: Wife, four children, two of whom are employed in the family business.
What is it that you do at Monoplex?
"I make prosthetic eyes."
What put you on this career track?
"I went to Worcester Industrial Tech back in the '80s for their opticianry program. While I was there, we had a field trip to American Optical in Southbridge and toured their Monoplex Eye division. I thought it was a pretty interesting way to make a living. At that time, AO was looking for someone to train. I applied and they hired me while I was still in school and worked through their apprenticeship program."
This specialized training, what did it entail?
"You learn all you need to know about fitting and fabricating artificial eyes. I worked for AO for eight years and then left and bought an existing artificial eye business in southern New Hampshire from a woman who was ready to retire. About 11 years ago, AO was going away, and they approached me to see if I wanted to buy their Monoplex Eye division, which I did."
What materials do you use in creating a custom-made prosthetic eye?
"In our lab here in Sturbridge, we use medical-grade acrylic which is hand-painted to match the existing eye."
What conditions bring your patients to you?
"It can be industrial accidents, although they are rare now that eye surgery saves more eyes than ever before. Then there are car accidents, freak accidents and illnesses such as diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration. "
What's the process for making a prosthesis?
"We schedule a patient for an all-day visit, and begin with taking an impression of the eye socket after surgery, similar to how a dentist would take an impression. From the impression we make a wax model which we fit to the patient.
Once there is a proper fit, we make a two-part stone mold into which we inject the acrylic to be heated under pressure until it is cured. It's then hand-painted, so by the end of the day, the patient leaves here with a prosthetic eye which matches their sighted eye."
What are the myths surrounding artificial eyes?
"You hear them described as glass eyes, but they have been acrylic since the 1940s. And they were never round, like marbles. It is held in place by the eyelids and capillary attraction. Others imagine they are fixed in place, but they move naturally."
What is the cost of a prosthetic eye, and is this procedure covered by insurance?
"Yes. It is not considered cosmetic, but therapeutic, and is covered by the majority of health insurers. The average cost of an artificial eye is $2,000."
What gives you the most satisfaction about your job?
"The best part is helping people. It's a rewarding feeling to fit someone with an artificial eye and they look in the mirror and immediately their self-confidence is restored by how natural they look. There are many misconceptions about artificial eyes, but the mirror never lies."
Any down side?
"The down side is having to work with insurance companies, as anybody working in the medical field knows all too well."
Is there an age range of the people you've helped over the years?
"We've fitted everyone from infants to a person just the other day who was 102 years old. There is no `typical' patient, and everyone who comes to us has a story to tell about their experience."
Are eyes like snowflakes?
"Yes, every eye is unique. The color of every eye is like a fingerprint - yours and yours alone."
Other career possibilities?
"I was training to be an optician, so if I hadn't opted for this specialty, I probably would have done that."
Are there a lot of people making custom artificial eyes?
"Basically there are two of us in New England, and just about 100 certified ocularists in the country. There is no formal training other than an apprenticeship.
You have to be equally adept as an artist and psychologist.
You are dealing with people who have had a traumatic loss, facial disfigurement, and they come to me with hope."
Compiled by reporter Bradford L. Miner
CUTLINE: Peter Kazanovicz paints a prosthetic eye: The veining is red filament painted on to the white surface before the a clear plastic film goes over the white, the iris and the pupil.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS