John Herman, OD, FAAO

Dr. John Herman has  volunteered with VIM for almost 10 years as Director of the Optometry Clinic. Those who assist him in delivering patient care describe him as “a knowledgeable, kind and generous man”, and find it “an honor and a pleasure to work with him. The personal respect and thoroughness of attention that he shows our neighbors is truly beautiful.”

Dr. Herman has been a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry and has served on the Clinical Advisory staff of many firms involved in serving the world of optometry. He has authored articles for the lay press as well as for scientific publications. Although semi-retired, he takes a keen interest in the latest developments in his field and continues to do a little research whenever possible.

Dr. Herman is a native of Pittsfield. Both his parents died by the time he was 12 years old. He then lived with a blind aunt who cared for him during his high school years. He knew he wanted to become self-sufficient at an early age, so he decided that enlisting in the Air Force would be his introduction to a wider world.

He joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War. After a year of stateside training as a mechanic he was stationed in Taiwan, where his work consisted of repairing jet engines. His unit served three bases in Vietnam, so he and his fellow mechanics would rotate between one site and another. He says he saw much in the war that he wouldn’t ever want to see again.

The Air Force was a life-changing experience for John Herman. It “gave me a measuring stick as to how I stood with the rest of the world.” Besides that, “it paid for my education, gave me money to go to school while I was enlisted, and again as a returning veteran.”

After the war, while still a student at the University of Massachusetts, he began working part-time with his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom were well-respected optometrists in Boston. His brother-in-law was an early expert in the use of contact lenses, and was known as one of the best scientists in his field. Dr. Herman enrolled in the UMass. School of Optometry in 1969, soon after that school was founded, having completed his undergraduate work at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts. He returned to Pittsfield in 1973 and opened his current office there.

Prior to the opening of the VIM Berkshires Optometry Clinic, VIM  called Dr. Herman to ask if he would see some patients who needed eye care in his Pittsfield office. He agreed, and once VIM had acquired more space for their own clinic, he worked with Pittsfield eye surgeon Dr. John Galt to set up the optometry service and to train the VIM clinical volunteers.

Dr. Herman says because of his own background “I can always put myself in the place of many of our VIM patients. I couldn’t afford some of the care that I probably needed when I was young. It’s important to treat people like you would want to be treated yourself.” He added, “While the US has a pretty good health care system, eye care and dental care are two areas that are only just beginning to be covered.”

Most optometry patients at VIM are seen for a standard eye exam; many are over 40 years of age and have never had their eyes checked before. “The eye is the only place in the body where you can see live blood vessels and nerves at work without an invasive procedure.” It is possible to diagnose many diseases — from glaucoma to brain tumors, to severe hypertension, just by examining the eye – which makes an annual eye exam an excellent preventive healthcare measure.

Other recommendations made by Dr. Herman for good eye health include the use of dark glasses whenever one is out in the sun for extended periods of time – “for many years we didn’t know how damaging the sun was” – he also recommends taking certain supplements like fish oil and vitamin C.

Dr. Herman has recently joined some colleagues to form a professional organization known as The Ocular Nutrition Society whose goal is to educate the public, other optometrists and medical practitioners about the importance of two major factors in eye disease – life-style and diet. “If you eat the right foods, or take the right supplements, it may not entirely prevent vision problems, but it may hold off or greatly diminish the advance of some diseases.” He is currently working on a study of 5,000 patients to test this hypothesis.

John Herman works at least two days a week at his Pittsfield office, and two afternoons a month at VIM. “People here at VIM are terrific,” says Dr. Herman. “I can’t say enough good things about them. I think to work in a place like this they have to have some special qualities; they all have giving souls and hearts. Those we don’t see around the clinic on a daily basis, the Board and volunteers who work in the background, make a major contribution by constantly doing what they can to raise money to keep the place afloat.”

by Tricia Bevan