Six muscles control eye movement. All of these muscles must coordinate in order for the brain to see a single image. When one or more of them doesn't work properly, the eye turns inward, outward, upward, or downward, and the brain's ability to see three-dimensional objects is compromised, causing potential loss of both depth perception and binocular vision. This condition, in which the eyes deviate, or turn away from a visual target, is medically referred to as strabismus.
As a young child, Sam Funk watched his older brother struggle with the most common type of strabismus in infants: oscillating esotropia, also known as inward-turning eye, or cross-eye. By the time he was in third grade, he had bi-focals. "I was always going with him to the optometrist," recalls Sam. "Sometimes, we'd have to drive 1 ½ hours to the ophthalmologist. Knowing that we had the same genetics, (and he had problems and I didn't), was what got me into optometry. It really messed with me."
By seventh grade, Sam, who has 20/20 vision, had already shadowed an optometrist in southwest Kansas, near his small home town of Holcomb. He says he really enjoyed seeing the patients leave "with a new attitude."
Soon he was majoring in human biology at the University of Kansas, with a focus on psychology, vision, and the brain. He also shadowed optometrists at the Children's Medical Hospital in Kansas City, and at a private practice in nearby Lawrence. "I was there for the patient," he emphasizes . . . "patients like my brother who had brothers of their own with perfect eyesight, and it wasn't their fault either."
The really, really great thing about this school is the pre-clinic. When I came to interview, I was surprised to hear there would be 26 chairs in the lab! Everyone is either the patient or the doctor at all times; we never have to wait.."
— Sam Funk, OPS-III
Hard work, service, and a focus on family were always a part of Sam's life. Born and raised in Holcomb, his great-grandfather started farming there, and his grandfather, now 80, continues to work the land along with his father. Sam, the fourth generation of Funks on the farm, still pitches in whenever he's home for breaks, and says he's harvested a whole lot of wheat: "Kansas' pride."
He's also harvested a lot of good will, donating his free time to mission work since he was a junior in high school. He has visited Kenya, Chile, Honduras, and New Orleans, helping with everything from digging water pipe trenches to building chapels. And for his first Thanksgiving break at MWU, he went down to the Baja Peninsula to assist an optometrist with low-income patients.
With his dedication to family and service, Sam is very happy to be at MWU, where the class size of 52 reminds him of home, where his graduating high school class had 80 students.
He has served as President of the Class Council, and really appreciates being in the first class "on the ground floor," where he can help with details like scheduling, class and club bylaws, and even curriculum suggestions. "Faculty members here are really great. They are always willing to hear from you. And students in the second-year dental class have been our mentors, because they were also an inaugural class. It's really nice to bounce ideas off each other."
"But the really, really great thing about this school is the pre-clinic. When I came to interview, I was surprised to hear there would be 26 chairs in the lab! Everyone is either the patient or the doctor at all times; we never have to wait. It's not like that at other optometry schools."
Overall, Sam says his favorite class is Clinical Care. "On our first Friday here, we were sitting in Clinic doing preliminary exams of other students. Then, in our second week, we were doing retinsoscopy."
In June 2011, Sam's third-year class became the first AZCOPT class to begin their clinical rotations in the new state-of-the-art Midwestern University Eye Institute, working under the close supervision of optometry faculty.
Sam still remains close to his brother, who now sells Harley Davidson motorcycles in Wichita, Kansas, and loves his job. Soon, Sam will fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an optometrist and helping other patients like his brother become successful.
Sam Funk is a third-year student in the inaugural class of the Arizona College of Optometry.