Dr. Kevin Wienkers has no boundaries for how far he’ll go to help others – even if it means traveling across the globe.
Wienkers, an ophthalmologist with BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists, has traveled to Africa, Myanmar (also known as Burma), India and the Philippines on medical mission trips to provide eye care for thousands of individuals.
The trips usually are sponsored by Surgical Eye Expeditions International, an organization that connects a global network of ophthalmologists with communities around the world in desperate need of eye care services, including surgery.
“Usually most of them on average are two weeks in length,” Wienkers says. “We would screen and then do surgery on patients from, you know, 100 miles away coming for … their free cataract surgery.”
It’s life-changing work, and not just for the patients, Wienkers says.
“The Hindu and Buddhist country there of India and Burma – their incredible passion for their religion, it’s so different from what we have here, and they’re so devoted to their beliefs,” he says. “Just learning about those things were special and people invite you into their homes and their places of worship. Just to experience it, it’s pretty humbling. They are very sweet people.”
Although his last mission trip was in 2016, Wienkers’ mission to help others in northeastern Wisconsin continues daily.
He sees and treats patients in Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay for cataracts, glaucoma, corneal transplants and more. He has practiced ophthalmology for more than 35 years. It’s a career path that could have gone in a different direction if not for one thing – kids.
“Initially I was going to be a pediatrician because I like kids and then I realized I liked well kids. Sick kids were kind of another story,” Wienkers says. “I was really impacted by some very bad cases and it weighed on me and I realized I could not do that. … I have a hard time even if my kids get an earache.”
During Wienkers’ third year in medical school at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, he was introduced to eye and vision care. He was hooked.
“When I got on the ophthalmology rotation, the doctors all seemed quite happy and it was very techy,” Wienkers says. “People were quite satisfied with what we could do for them and their quality of life.”
While completing his residency at Indiana University, Wienkers formed a bond with a professor who further helped steer him toward a career as an ophthalmologist.
“I think I was most influenced by one of the older ophthalmologists who taught me how to do corneal transplant. That was Dr. (Merrill) Grayson,” Wienkers says. “But in addition to that, he was a very good instructor. He also had been teaching himself Chinese and I was just impressed by his desire to learn. I think that’s something that’s impacted me. I just have a deep desire to keep learning and that’s self-ingrained and modeled by him.”
When Wienkers isn’t treating patients, he’s likely to be found spending time with his wife on their tandem bicycle.
“We’ve done trips around the world,” Wienkers says. “Up the Rhine River. Around Tahiti. We had a trip planned to go to Japan … but that’s all out now. We did one in Tuscany, Provence and the Adriatic Coast of Croatia and Dubrovnik to Venice. We’ve done some interesting trips. … We went to New Zealand, too, last year.”
Wienkers also enjoys riding his motorcycle and scuba diving.