Lester Efianayi

Growing up just outside of Hartford, Connecticut, I had dreams of playing professional sports. After a stellar senior high school football season, it seemed that everything was going according to plan. I was able to garner interest from several collegiate programs; I was ecstatic. However, it was the diagnosis of glaucoma in three members of my family that had the greatest impact on my future.

My grandfather and two of his brothers in Nigeria had lost a significant amount of their vision. As a result of glaucoma, they could no longer function without personal aid. My ophthalmologist would later explain that cases like my family’s, if detected early enough, could be managed. I was furious that a lack of information and resources was the difference between a slight decrease in peripheral vision and going blind! This ordeal inspired me to learn more about the eyes.

My father challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and pursue optometry. As a child, I can recall seeing representations of African American males solely as athletes and entertainers. Just like other inner-city children, it rarely crossed my mind to break from that “norm.” I couldn’t recall ever encountering anyone that looked like me or that I felt I could relate to that worked in healthcare.

Accepting that challenge, I shocked most by putting my first love, football, on the backburner. While my decision definitely was not popular with most of my teammates and coaches, this journey has been the most humbling and rewarding experience of my life.

Here at ICO, I hope to inspire children in Chicago’s south side. I want to show them that a career in healthcare not only allows you to give back to your community, but also opens up a gateway for others to follow in your steps.

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