From Humble Beginnings to the #1 Cataract Practice in SWFL
How Dr. Thomas A. Quigley’s humble past and patient-first philosophy helped him grow Quigley Eye Specialists into a leading ophthalmology practice.
By Gina Birch
When Dr. Thomas Quigley was a young boy in Mississippi, there was a time when doctors didn’t think he would make it past the seventh grade. They were wrong.
Today, he is one of the leading cataract surgeons in the country, celebrating 30 years in Southwest Florida.
The son of a general medical practitioner in a small town in Mississippi, Dr. Quigley knew he wanted to practice medicine, but it wasn’t until his second year of medical school that his specialty, quite literally, came into focus.
His sister Kathy had developed uveitis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the tissues of the eye. The disease had progressed to the point that one eye had to be removed. She eventually lost all sight.
Dr. Quigley says, “I remember her crying through the night due to constant pain.” He continues, “She raised three kids by herself, she’s strong and positive. My sister is an inspiration to me. She’s the reason I do what I do today.”
When the young doctor graduated from medical school, he knew he wanted to stay in the south but wasn’t sure where. While visiting a friend in Naples, he remembers, “It was a beautiful area. (Chuckling) And I noticed it was a popular place to retire.”
Wanting to specialize in eye care for an aging population, Dr. Quigley did some research and discovered the area was vastly underserved. The average wait to see an ophthalmologist was three months.
Setting up practice in Fort Myers, he remembers the first day, “We had a staff of two and zero patients.” He pounded the pavement, speaking at senior centers where he often found a tough audience.
Laughing about one experience he says, “There were seven people, and I had my little slide show about to give a presentation and this lady says, ‘Move out of the way! Wheel of Fortune is on.’”
Fast-forward thirty years, and today, Quigley Eye Specialists is one of the largest ophthalmology practices in the area. They have eight offices and perform more cataract surgery than any other practice in Southwest Florida.
As a leading ophthalmology practice in the country, Quigley Eye Specialists focuses on much more than cataracts. Today, they have specialists that treat corneal conditions, glaucoma, retinal issues and droopy eyelids with a procedure called bladeless eyelid surgery.
The growth didn’t happen by accident. It was through commitment to providing excellent patient care and having the right business culture, according to Dr. Quigley. He explains, “We have important core values. We focus on technical expertise, service to community and treating patients like guests in our home.”
Patients who are facing cataract surgery are often afraid of the procedure and/or its potential complications. However, because of Dr. Quigley’s experience and expertise, the probability of something going wrong is a mere .02%, which is significantly lower than the national average.
About the surgery, Dr. Quigley says, “The procedure takes me about six minutes, while most doctors’ average 15 to 20.” He had performed dozens of surgeries the day of the interview, all completed by noon. Smiling, he says, “To give a patient their life back through restoring their vision, there’s no better reward as a surgeon than that.”
Dr. Quigley serves the Southwest Florida community in a number of ways, but perhaps none so great as giving the gift of free sight-saving cataract surgery to those without insurance or means to pay for it.
Take for instance a gentleman with stage 4 lung cancer who was given 4 to 6 months to live. Other doctors thought cataract surgery was not worth the effort, but Dr. Quigley disagreed, “It was more of a quality of life decision. He had a gazillion bills and was out of money, but I did the surgery anyway because if I can help give him great vision for his last few months of life, I will. Afterward, the patient gave me a hug and cried.”
To date, Quigley Eye Specialists has performed nearly 2,000 free sight-saving cataract surgeries to the uninsured in our Southwest Florida community.
While his sister may have inspired him to go into ophthalmology, the rest of Dr. Quigley’s story is an inspiration to anyone faced with challenges that may seem impossible to overcome. It’s a story he’s going public with for the first time, sharing part of his childhood that moved him to tears.
When Dr. Quigley was two years old, he went into cardiac arrest in the family’s kitchen. Unbeknown to his parents, the toddler had a life-threatening virus. His father performed CPR, but he was without oxygen for about five minutes. Hospitalized for months, Dr. Quigley’s life would forever be changed.
Fighting back emotions, Dr. Quigley recalls, “I became dyslexic because of the ordeal.” Dyslexia is a condition in which a person has difficulty in reading or interpreting words. “I ended up failing the third grade because I had a hard time reading.” He went to psychologists and doctors who said he likely wouldn’t finish seventh grade. The work wasn’t easy, but thanks to his mother’s tutoring and his ability to memorize words, Dr. Quigley graduated high school.
He didn’t just do well in college, he excelled, graduating summa cum laude from Ole Miss and second in his class from medical school at LSU.
The personable doctor has never forgotten his struggles and humble beginnings. According to Dr. Quigley and those who know him well, those challenges have helped him become who he is today, which is one of the nations leading cataract surgeons and founder of Quigley Eye Specialists, the premier eye specialist group in Southwest Florida.
Dr. Quigley says, “What makes me the happiest is focusing on the needs of people; it came from my dad’s philosophy. From day one, my dad taught us that we are here to serve the community.”
That he does.