"It's emotionally taxing sometimes," admitted Erik, "But it's a greatly gratifying job." When Christine Campbell came to San Diego, she first saw Arthur Perry of La Jolla, an ocular plastic surgeon who invented revolutionary implants made from coral, which simulates bone.

"Because of the body's acceptance of it (coral), tissue and muscle grow around and through it, making it stable," said Gordon Kolberg. " Then we can attach an artificial eye to that implant with a peg. Using the peg we've developed, the artificial eye can actually move to look realistic."

Perry worked closely with Kolberg in refining artificial eyes to fit the implants better. After losing an eye, an implant is placed in the socket, usually by an ocular plastic surgeon. It takes several months to heal, and for tissue to take root and grow through the implant enough so that Kolberg's can begin working on fitting an artificial eye.

Perry's coral implant invention inspired Kolberg. He worked on perfecting a system that would allow the lightweight plastic artificial eyes to attach to the implant. The implant "only works well if you have the ocularist that can make it look good and move well," Perry said. "Gordon is pretty much a genius in mechanical things, and a very good artist. Erik's work is exceptional."

He uses a plastic ball peg, which gives the prosthesis more natural movement, a more "real" look. The results have given both Perry and Kolberg worldwide recognition. "We're lucky we can do what we do," said Perry. "By the grace of God, we could be in our patients' shoes."

Patients are referred to the Kolberg’s by ophthalmologists and ocular plastic surgeons. From the moment a patient walks in the office door of Kolberg Ocular Products Inc., they are made as comfortable as possible. "My dad always said to put yourself in the patient's place, to sit on the other side of the table," said Kirstin.

"It's team effort," said Gordon Kolberg. "Russ, our office manager, reads a patient well and can usually tell us what kind of emotional state he or she is in, how traumatic the situation is, or how sensitive he or she is to being there." They take his evaluation into account every time they see a new patient.

The Kolberg’s start by taking an impression of the socket in order to get an exact mold of it. The mold goes through several processes, including heating, kneading, honing, curing, shaping and fitting. A groove is made in the back of the eye, where the peg will slip into eventually, to allow it to attach to the coral implant. When the eye mold is produced in acrylic, Erik goes through four basic stages of painting it. The patient is Erik's live model. He hones in on the details of the good eye. Sitting across from him at a custom table that houses a fan to absorb paint fumes, it takes between three and four sessions -- at two or three hours each time -- to complete the process.

Red thread or paint is used for veins of the eyeball. To create the fine lines and depth of color that determine individual eye colors, Erik uses Windsor Newton oils and dry earth powder pigments, and mixes oils with clear liquid plastic for sclera tinting.

One reason they moved to their present location off Miramar Road in 1985 was the direction the building faced. Like true artists, they knew they needed to use the best possible north facing light to help with matching the right colors to patients' natural eye color. Paintings are scheduled for only between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., for the best results. Coats and coats of clear paint are followed by countless polishing.

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