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An Eye for an Eye

Lake Oswego's Kevin and Maureen Schou - not exactly your ordinary couple
by: VERN UYETAKE, What Kevin Schou and his wife Maureen Maloney-Schou can accomplish with artificial eyes can seem almost miraculous;  Kevin Schou and Maureen Maloney-Schou have had a remarkable partnership for 21 years in both business and marriage.

When Kevin Schou and his wife Maureen Maloney-Schou go to a social gathering, there is always an inevitable question.

'They ask, 'What do you do?'' Maloney-Schou said. 'Then after I tell them, they say, 'You do what!''

It's not that Kevin and Maureen like shocking new acquaintances. It is just that they have highly unusual professions. Maloney-Schou makes ocular prosthetics (artificial eyes), while Schou is also an ocularist, as well as an anaplastolgist - meaning he can make prostheses for other parts of the human face like ears and noses.

Still, the couple takes people's surprised reactions in stride.

'It is a fascinating profession,' Maloney-Schou said. 'It is so unique and so different. It's so rare that many people don't realize it exists.'

A visit to their office on Mercantile Drive in Lake Oswego gives an idea of just how unique and different. On a counter, Schou lays out all of the parts he uses to make artificial eyes, and to a layman this looks strange. Maybe like something out of an old Peter Lorre movie.

But what the couple can do with those parts is wonderful. Not only can they can make an artificial eye that is stunningly realistic, but by doing so they can transform the lives of their patients. Where there was once deformity due to accidents, birth defects or aggressive forms of cancer, a human face is restored.

'It's a very rewarding and unique field,' Schou said. 'There are such a small portion of people who do this. There are maybe 100 anaplastologists in the whole country. It is so specialized. Our practice territories are huge.'

Indeed, Kevin and Maureen's base of operations is very spread out. They have satellite clinics in Eugene and Medford, plus two weeks a year they go to the Native American Center in Alaska.

Their caseload seems massive. Each of them handle about 250 cases on artificial eyes a year. Yet they are able to schedule them so well that they never have to turn down a patient and they also avoid having their professional lives crunch their personal lives, which includes raising a son and a daughter in Lake Oswego.

For the Schous, the stars seemed to have lined up just right. To a remarkable degree they have achieved a successful marriage and a successful practice over the past 21 years.

'Sometimes we work on projects together,' Maloney-Schou said. 'But usually we work just with a patient from beginning to end. Still it's great to have another set of eyes. You get an instant second opinion.

'People often ask us, 'How can you work together?' I can't imagine working with anyone else. It has worked out perfectly. It was meant to be.'

However, recently a case came Schou's way that was unusual even by his standards. A 12-year-old boy in Hawaii named Nicholas Dean Turner had a gaping hole in his face because his right eye had to be removed in order to take out a cancerous tumor. His family is of modest means, and the chances of them being able to afford an ocular prosthesis were nil. Their health insurance did not cover such a procedure.

However, the Turner family lived next door to Dr. Tim McDevitt, an ophthalmologist who happened to be a friend of the Schous'.

This turned out to be one of those feel-good happy stories, thanks mainly to the generosity and hard work of Kevin Schou. He went to Hawaii, taking Maureen and the kids with him, and donated his services, which otherwise would have cost the Turner family $8,000. While Hawaiian ocularist Doss Tannehill created the iris, Schou put in three and a half days of painstaking work to reconstruct the boy's eye socket and eyelids.

'What was unique about that situation was that our kids got to see their dad in a different light,' Maureen said. 'They saw firsthand of the effect that a prosthesis makes on a person. Our son played with Dean and got to know him. Our whole family got to interact with his family. It was a very unique opportunity.'

'Dean was a terrific kid,' Schou said. 'He had terrific support. His parents wouldn't let him get discouraged. Some patients have a lot of psychological upheaval when they go through this procedure, but Dean was a highly motivated patient.'

Dean's case and Schou's contribution to it were heavily publicized in Hawaii, especially in a feature story in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. But this is a story that can be summed up in a single photo of Dean Turner's face after the operation. You almost cannot tell the real eye from the prosthetic eye.

As Schou said, 'This was something that touched the whole community.'

Maureen praised, 'No one can do what Kevin can do. That's why he got involved.'

Due to the Turner case, the Schous' huge territory of practice will likely become immensely larger.

'It's possible they'll set it up for me to come back once or twice a year,' Schou said. 'The facilities are there.'

Truly, there are very few couples like Kevin Schou and Maureen Maloney-Schou.

'We both love our job. It's great to get up and go to work in the morning,' Maureen said. 'It's so great to participate in someone's life and know you are making a difference.'

Much more can be learned about the couple at the Web sites for their businesses.

At www.maloneyocular.com there is lots of information not only about their practice but their family history. Maureen's father Bernard Maloney was one of the founding fathers of prosthetics in Oregon.

At www.ocularconcepts.com, there is information about a new business that Kevin developed in which he builds the Natural-Iris Conformer, which can be used in immediate post-op procedures. This rehabilitative conformer allows time for healing without the use of an eyepatch until a custom-made prosthesis is ready.

For more information, contact the Schou's' office at 503-675-1320.