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Dr. Katowitz examining patient

Dr. William Katowitz: From Musician to Surgeon 

By Emma Wells

Scheie Vision Annual Report 2017

As an oculoplastic and orbital surgeon who primarily treats children, Dr. William Katowitz fills a highly specialized role at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). He is not to be confused with his father Dr. James Katowitz, who also works at CHOP as an Attending Surgeon in the Division of Ophthalmology and the Director of Oculoplastic and Orbital Surgery. It is easy to assume that Dr. Katowitz the younger followed in the footsteps of his father. But as Paul McCartney would say, Dr. Katowitz took “the long and winding road” to where he is today.

“My dad is an incredible inspiration,” said Dr. Katowitz, who noted that although he ultimately ended up in the same division of the same hospital as his father, he didn’t realize that he wanted to pursue medicine until later in life. “My journey was somewhat circuitous in that I didn’t go right out of college into med school,” said Dr. Katowitz. After earning his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1989, Dr. Katowitz decided to move to New York to pursue music professionally. After 10 years of playing in a band, however, he decided that life in the music industry was no longer what he wanted. 

“I realized I wasn’t using my mind to the extent that I wanted to,” said Dr. Katowitz, who then moved to Boston to do a post-baccalaureate premed program. When Dr. Katowitz was accepted into the Perelman School of Medicine, he did not yet know he would specialize in ophthalmology. “I actually was interested in infectious diseases when I applied to medical school, because it was the time of the AIDS crisis,” he said. During medical school, however, his interests veered towards surgical specialties, and he eventually landed on ophthalmology.

After graduating from his ophthalmology residency at Scheie, Dr. Katowitz completed not one, not two, but three fellowships. Two of those fellowships were at CHOP, one in Pediatric Ophthalmology and another in Oculoplastic and Orbital Surgery. Dr. Katowitz went to London for his third fellowship, which was in Orbital and Lacrimal Surgery at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Because Moorfields Eye Hospital is a high-volume center for orbital disease, Dr. Katowitz did a great deal of surgical training during his year there.

“When you’re well trained and then you do more training, you just turbocharge your skillset,” said Dr. Katowitz. In 2008 he joined the faculty at CHOP as an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology. Dr. Katowitz is also the director of CHOP’s two-year oculoplastics fellowship. 

Dr. Katowitz’s practice is roughly 90% pediatric and 10% adults, but he sees all of his patients at CHOP. “Most of what I see, I call it the four Ts: tumors, trauma, tearing, and ptosis,” Dr. Katowitz said, chuckling. “And that’s kind of a medical joke because ptosis is spelled with a P.”

Dr. Katowitz often works with children with thyroid conditions, hemangiomas, and vascular malformations in addition to eyelid and tear duct abnormalities. He explained that the aim of most of his surgical work is rehabilitation. “I take something that doesn’t look as good as it could and try to make it look better,” said Dr. Katowitz. He added that although most of the procedures he performs at CHOP are functional, appearance and functionality go hand-in-hand. For example, a child with an eyelid abnormality, or ptosis, will see and look better after undergoing a surgery.

“People feel very strongly about the way they look, and sometimes the way they look gets in the way of how they feel,” said Dr. Katowitz.

In addition to being a passionate surgeon and clinician, Dr. Katowitz also conducts research. Most recently, he was involved in a study that was successful in identifying risk factors for craniosynostosis, a condition in which the plates in a child’s skull fuse too early. “The pressure in the head goes up, and it can lead to cognitive delays and issues with swallowing, chewing, breathing, and seeing,” explained Dr. Katowitz. “One of the signs of pressure in the head is a change to the back of the eye.”

Conventional techniques for detecting craniosynostosis are invasive and can potentially cause problems such as bleeding, infections, or a leak of cerebrospinal fluid. Dr. Katowitz and his colleagues investigated if taking light-wave images of the retina through a process called optical coherence tomography (OCT) could be an alternative, non-invasive technique for identifying elevated intracranial pressure. They studied 79 children undergoing treatment at CHOP and compared the results of a spectral-domain OCT with directly measured intracranial pressure. Ultimately, the study identified retina imaging as a promising technique for safely and noninvasively measuring pressure in the skull.

Above all, Dr. Katowitz’s passion for patient care is the ultimate motivation behind his work. “The main thing is that, as touchy-feely as it sounds, in medicine you’re here to serve people,” said Dr. Katowitz. “I love the interactions I have with patients and their families. That’s why I do it.”

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