Published on Thursday, December 14, 2017
Media Contact: Amanda Markow
A beloved figure for over 40 years at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Connie McCaa is being memorialized with a timely tribute to her generous spirit – an endowment established in her name.
The late professor of ophthalmology, who passed away in April 2017, is being honored with a gift toward an endowed fund by her longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Catherine Newton, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Louisville, and Newton’s husband, Dr. Gordon Strauss, UL professor of psychiatry.
“Connie had contributed so much to basic research in cause and treatment of hypertension as a basic scientist and yet, as a clinician, she was so good with patients,” Newton said.
“Connie was extremely hard-working. Her contribution to research and medicine should be honored with the endowed chair.”
A native of West, McCaa received a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1963 and her M.D. in 1977, both at UMMC.
She completed her ophthalmology residency at UMMC, followed by a cornea fellowship in ophthalmology at Louisiana State University with Newton before returning to UMMC, where she remained for most of her career.
McCaa was also the director of UMMC’s cornea division before starting her own private practice in Jackson. She began performing corneal transplants in 1984, and had performed more than any other doctor in the Jackson area by 2000.
She also served as the medical director and co-medical director for the nonprofit Mississippi Lions Eye Bank for several years, roles for which she refused payment. In 2014, she returned to teach and practice at UMMC’s Grant’s Ferry Clinic, where she was still working until this past spring.
“Her selflessness of her time to our Medical Center, the state of Mississippi and her professions – both biochemistry and ophthalmology – is unmeasurable,” said Dr. Kimberly Crowder, professor and chair of ophthalmology at UMMC.
“When I was a resident, I remember there were many weekends that Dr. McCaa would operate if a patient needed a surgery – especially if there was a patient who needed an emergent cornea transplant,” Crowder said.
McCaa went beyond her clinical duty and defended her patients by spending hours at the State Capitol and with the American Academy of Ophthalmology pushing for patient safety, said Crowder, who hopes that, through this endowment, UMMC will eventually have a named professorship or chair in the Department of Ophthalmology. That would be a first for the department.
“Dr. Newton was not only Dr. McCaa’s friend, but she clearly holds many of the same beliefs that Dr. McCaa did,” said Crowder.
“Dr. Newton understands that an endowment in Dr. McCaa’s name not only is a way to immortalize Dr. McCaa and the work she did, but also to ensure that what Dr. McCaa stood for continues on in Mississippi for our patients.”
Newton believes that McCaa’s work with the National Institute of Health's Heart, Blood and Lung committee, as well as her work on the American Academy of Ophthalmology council, gained great national recognition for UMMC. The larger this endowment becomes, the better for the university she said.
Not only would an endowed faculty position in McCaa’s name allow the university to recruit the best ophthalmic surgeons, it would also keep alive her legacy of consideration for and dedication to patients and students.
“I had no idea how many lives Mother had touched over the course of her career,” said Melanie Stewart, one of McCaa’s daughters.
Over the years, several doctors expressed their gratitude to McCaa for taking time to encourage them during their education and careers, and many former patients described how McCaa had saved their eyesight, even when others had given them little hope.
McCaa’s medical class reunion was this past summer, and her class chose to honor her by donating to this endowed fund instead of a general scholarship fund.
“Cathy and her husband wanted to honor Mother in a special way, by establishing the endowment, and so many of Mother’s colleagues, friends and former patients have already contributed,” Stewart said.
“My brother, sisters and I are touched by the outpouring of love and support for both the university and our mother.”
In 2017 also, McCaa was inducted into the Medical Alumni Chapter Hall of Fame, in August. She had been told of the impending honor before she passed away.
“Her friends and colleagues at UMMC were liker her family,” Stewart said.
“Of all the many awards and accolades she received, that one was the highest honor of all. I am so grateful that she knew she was being inducted.”
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