Ophthalmologist Dr. Edward Franks ’72 recently returned from Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center on the island of Borneo, where he has volunteered for the past several years, treating the eye injuries of orphaned orangutans. While there, he also volunteered at the local hospital screening and diagnosing the underserved population of the region.
“After reading extensively about primates my entire life, I started contributing to charitable foundations, including the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center,” says Dr. Franks. “After three or four years, I planned a trip to that part of the world and asked the foundation if I could visit the facility I was supporting. It turned out not to be as straightforward as I’d thought. I had to fill out forms and be approved by the Indonesian government since it was a research facility and not one traditionally open to tourists.” Three months later, and only five days before he was set to leave, he received official approval from the government to visit the Center.
During his initial visit, he began working with veterinarians, teaching them ophthalmology and helping to examine the orangutans. After each subsequent visit, he returned to his ophthalmological practice in Albany, N.Y., and continues to regularly consult with the vets.
“I interact with the veterinarians through pictures that they send of eye injuries and trauma,” says Dr. Franks. “I then go over periodically, either making trips yearly or every 18 months, as the situation requires. If surgery is necessary, I bring my surgical instruments with me.”
After three or four visits, Dr. Franks’ focus shifted to include the local community. “I went to the state hospital, located an hour away, and met with the representatives there,” says Dr. Franks. “I met with the ophthalmologist and spoke about what they needed and how I could help. During subsequent meetings and visits, I began examining and screening patients.”
In the future, Dr. Franks hopes to also help in Africa and the Galapagos Islands. “This past April, I met Jane Goodall and, after being asked to write to her, am waiting to hear back about providing the same ophthalmological services to chimps in Africa,” says Dr. Franks.
A naturally curious person, he credits Hobart and William Smith Colleges with stimulating his curiosity and exposing him to a wide range of people, opportunities, and educational value systems. “My time at the Colleges made me more interested in contributing rather than taking,” says Dr. Franks.
Dr. Franks’ generosity not only extends abroad to primates and underserved communities, but also comes full circle to his alma mater. “I give two scholarships a year, in the chemistry and religion departments,” he says. “The scholarships bear the names of my most influential teachers, Professor Richard Heaton and Professor John Hill, of the religion and chemistry departments, respectively.”
Dr. Franks is a diplomat for both the American Board of Ophthalmology and the National board of Medical Examiners. He is a fellow for the American Society of Retina Specialists and the College of Ophthalmology in England.
Since 1987, he has had a private ophthalmic practice in Albany, where he also works as a clinical associate professor for the Albany Medical Center’s Department of Ophthalmology. Since 2006, he has been the attending ophthalmic for the New York State Department of Corrections.
While at Hobart, Dr. Franks earned a B.S. in chemistry and participated in track and lacrosse. Elected to Epsilon Psi Sigma honor society, he received the Chemical Rubber Company Award for outstanding freshman chemistry student. He then went on to earn his medical degree from Albany Medical College. He completed his residency at Albany Medical Center Hospital and went on to complete a fellowship at Baylor College in Texas.