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Luxme Hariharan ’04, MD’09

Seeing the Wisconsin Idea is believing — and Luxme Hariharan is using her UW education to help children all over the world to experience the wonders of sight.

UW Majors: Latin American, Caribbean & Iberian Studies, L&S; Biology, CALS
Age: 31 | Miami, Florida
Pediatric Ophthalmology Fellow, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Seeing the Wisconsin Idea is believing — and Luxme Hariharan is using her UW education to help children all over the world to experience the wonders of sight.

"Ever since I left Wisconsin, I have tried to capitalize on my education and skills to try to make every community where I visit and live a better place," she says.

Hariharan, a pediatric ophthalmology fellow, is focusing her career on treating children's vision problems and preventing childhood blindness. Living her life by the motto instilled by her grandmother, "To those to whom much is given, much is to be expected," she has put her education to work developing childhood-blindness prevention and screening programs. Working with various ministries of health, UNICEF and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Hariharan has been able to help establish these programs in places such as Niger, El Salvador and Argentina.

As a part of UW-Madison's medical scholar program, she majored in both Caribbean studies and biology, which gave her the opportunity to study childhood malnutrition in the Dominican Republic, thus fostering her interest in international health. As a medical student, she realized the global impact she could have as an ophthalmologist while helping to establish an eye-care program in Mysore, India with Combat Blindness International.

"I will never forget witnessing the relief of a mother after we gave her son vitamin A, and the wonder of a man who received free cataract surgery and exclaimed, 'Now I can finally see what my granddaughter looks like,'"Hariharan recalls.

She earned a master of public health degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2008. Following graduation from medical school in 2009, she pursued a pediatrics internship at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, and then served as an ophthalmology resident at the University of Pennsylvania's Scheie Eye Institute. Today, she is a pediatric ophthalmology fellow at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"I am determined to become a leader and child advocate in the field of pediatric ophthalmology and international childhood-blindness prevention," she says. Her means to this end include public health intervention, direct patient care and clinical research. She hopes that the research will assist groups such as the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group. She also plans to teach and to continue working with global health organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF to implement programs to prevent childhood blindness.

In her own words

What is your proudest UW achievement?

Working with SAIVA (Student Action for Indian Volunteerism & Aid) to create the first annual UW-Madison Gandhi Day of Service. Some 30 to 40 campus organizations participated to help serve the community and campus. It continues to be an annual tradition.

What are you reading now?

My ophthalmology boards study materials! A book that I am looking forward to reading after my boards is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, recommended to me by several people recently. Not sure if that is a hint in some way.

Who is your hero?

My parents are my heroes. They are truly the most selfless, loving, industrious, optimistic and fun people I know. They sacrificed being with their family and friends and excellent careers in India to move to Nairobi, Kenya, and then to the States, all so that I could grow up with more opportunities than they had. As an only child, my one sadness is that no other child in this world got the privilege to call Nithya and Hari Mom and Dad. Sree rama jayam.

What do you do in your free time?

I love live music and dancing. I grew up dancing Indian classical and folk dances, and now have learned to love dances from around the world. On campus, I was part of a professional Latin dance company called Fuego del Caribe. We performed throughout Wisconsin and competed at the Boston Salsa Congress my senior year.

If you could trade places with any person for a week, who would it be?

I would love to trade places with the executive director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, to experience what it would be like to serve the world's children in that capacity.

What would you be if you hadn't chosen your current career path?

I think I would have gone to law school and/or pursued a degree in public policy with the hopes of running for office one day. This may still be something I pursue, as I truly believe in public service and advocating for underserved and underprivileged communities — especially our children.

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