by Max Brantley
LITTLE ROCK – A Rogers couple has pledged $3 million to the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to establish the Leland and Betty Tollett Center for Retinal and Ophthalmic Genetics Disorders.
The Tolletts’ gift will provide the resources to finish out the eighth floor of the Jones Eye Institute to house the center, which will include diagnostic and treatment space, low vision and rehabilitation space, clinical research and database facilities. Basic research will continue on the third floor and will be expanded to include basic genetic research.
John P. Shock, M.D., distinguished professor and founding director of the Jones Eye Institute, said there have been major discoveries in the knowledge of retinal disorders and ocular genetics in the past decade, prompting the need for the new center.
“These new discoveries along with new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies have provided exciting opportunities for the prevention of vision loss,” Shock said. “If you take into account that in the next decade or so the number of patients with serious ocular conditions will double due to our growing aging population, the timing for developing a Retinal and Ophthalmic Genetic Disorders Center is ideal.”
Leland Tollett, a former two-time chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, decided to make this gift because of his lifelong interest in eye care.
“Betty and I wanted to do something unique for Arkansans with vision impairment and we chose the Jones Eye Institute because of their excellent reputation as a comprehensive eye institute. We are excited about this new center’s potential,” said Leland Tollett, who served on the Jones Eye Institute Advisory Board for five years.
Jones Eye Institute leaders agree that the new center has the potential to be a magnet for attracting patients and families from across the region.
“This gift will go a long way in helping to make the Jones Eye Institute a premiere comprehensive eye center for cutting-edge genetics research and treatment,” said Christopher Westfall, M.D., chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the Jones Eye Institute. “We are extremely thankful for the Tollett family’s generosity and look to honor them by developing this center into one of the region’s most respected programs.”
UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., joined in thanking the Tolletts.
“Because of the generosity of the Tollett family and the innovative leadership at the Jones Eye Institute, this center will add another component to UAMS that people across the region can look to for specialty care they might not find anywhere else,” Rahn said.
Shock said the eighth floor renovation project will take up to 18 months, and that the Jones Eye Institute already has the team in place to help the new center grow.