St. George’s only pediatric ophthalmologist, Zion Eye Institute’s Joshua Schliesser, is a kid at heart

Composite image. Background photo shows the Zion Eye Institute, St. George, Utah, Sept. 4, 2019. Foreground image features Dr. Joshua Schliesser, location and date not specified | Background photo by Andrew Pinckney. Schliesser photo courtesy of Zion Eye Institute, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Even though he graduated at the top of his class with a degree in medicine, went on to complete a very prestigious Pediatric Ophthalmology Fellowship at Indiana University and is now Southern Utah’s only full-time pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Joshua Schliesser is really just a kid at heart.

Stock image, St. George News

This is a trait that serves him well when treating his diverse group of patients at Zion Eye Institute. The father of five told St. George News that he loves working with kids, and with his fun personality, the career choice “felt like a really good fit.”

“I’m making a difference in kids’ lives, and honestly, I don’t really feel like it’s work,” he said. “I’m just trying to provide education and information to parents and patients to help them understand the potential their kids can have.”

Schliesser’s passion for helping others came early while attending the University of Utah School of Medicine, where he felt a strong desire to be a pediatric surgeon, inspired by the possibility of making a difference for those who had their whole lives ahead of them. After graduation, he quickly gravitated toward ophthalmology.

He said practicing in a unique community like Southern Utah has been great because of the huge variety of ages and patients he is able to treat.

“I see a lot of different things that can go wrong with kids,” he said. “I also take care of adults who have misaligned eyes.” 

The misalignment of the eyes, otherwise known as strabismus or “crossed eyes,” is most often found among children but can also occur in adults as a result of trauma, neurological and vascular conditions. A common symptom is double vision, Schliesser said, but with the use of specialized glasses or surgery to reposition the extraocular muscles that control eye movement, it can be effectively managed.

“Adults who get double vision from either a stroke or just some age-related changes to the eyes will often be referred to me, and I can correct those problems with surgery or special glasses with a prism in them,” he said. “I see a lot of ways that eyes can be affected — cataracts, glaucoma, tumors in their eyes. Fortunately some of those more challenging things are rare.” 

Schleisser said patients travel from Nevada, Arizona and as far as central Utah to see him and take advantage of the state-of-the-art technology he has available at Zion Eye. His patients are often referred to him by pediatricians who have identified a potential problem or after vision screenings at schools or organizations like Roots for Kids.

In general, Schliesser recommends children be seen around the time they are getting ready to start school, at 4 or 5 years old, and then depending on the person, it is a good idea to have eyes checked every couple of years.

That being said, if he has a child that has a strong family history of an amblyopia or “lazy eye,” it is important to treat the problem as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary vision loss as they get older. He suggests bringing them in for a visit within the first couple of years.

“If they have any sort of misaligned eyes, I usually tell parents that it’s good to get those kids in early,” he said.

If their issues are severe, like crossed eyes at birth, parents should get them in during the first month of life to be evaluated — to give a child the best chance at developing strong normal vision in both eyes.

A child’s brain is similar to a sponge, Schliesser said, and if one or both of their eyes isn’t getting a clear image to the brain, that part will not develop properly. It has a limited window for treatment – the older a child gets, the harder it is to restore some of that vision.

“A lot of times parents will think, ‘My child seems fine,’ but they may be only using one of their eyes,” he said. “They may look fine under normal inspection, but then if you look on an eye exam, they might have a very subtle cataract, or they might have a really high prescription in that eye that has been undetected. If you wait until they’re a teenager or adult, by then it may be too late.”

Performing eye exams on a child can be challenging, but he does his best to create an environment that feels safe and friendly where kids can feel comfortable. Being at Zion Eye for almost five years, he has followed the progress of many patients from a young age, and watching them grow older with 20/20 vision in each eye is one of the key things that keeps his smile wide as he enters the office each morning. 

“It is a very rewarding field.”

For more information about Dr. Schliesser and other physicians at Zion Eye Institute, visit their website. You can also call for an appointment today at 435-656-2020.

Written by ANDREW PINCKNEY, St. George News.

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