Battling Blindness Abroad

A Marine on St. Croix doctor is honored for his volunteer work in developing countries.

James Standefer didn’t set out to be a globetrotting do-gooder. “My father was a family doctor in the country,” he says. “I always wanted to do that.”

So in 1973, Standefer founded Associated Eye in Stillwater. As his practice grew, he started volunteering through the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), initially traveling to the developing world to perform cataract surgery before switching his focus to glaucoma.

“Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness,” Standefer says. “It wasn’t being properly diagnosed or treated, so I paired my skills with that need.”

Standefer had trained under renowned glaucoma specialist Dr. Bernard Becker. In 1995, Standefer left private practice to volunteer full time, training ophthalmologists in 31 countries in the proper diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma. He designed and led workshops that are still being taught today.

In 2015, the AAO awarded him the International Blindness Prevention Award for his nearly 20 years of service. The most rewarding part, he says, is getting to see the doctors he trained at international conferences. “My students are now the professionals,” he says.

Now an adjunct clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota, Standefer makes his home in Marine on St. Croix, enjoying the nature that brought him to the Valley more than 40 years ago. “This is a great area,” Standefer says. “I know my neighbors will look after my place when I’m gone.”