Lasik Eye Surgeon, Dr. Manoj Motwani
Lasik Eye Surgeon, Dr. Manoj Motwani, speaks candidly on finding his sight.
By Fine Magazine Staff Writer
2014 PORSCHE 911 PROVIDED BY PORSCHE OF SAN DIEGO WWW.PORSCHEOFSANDIEGO.COM
Photo By George Arguelles
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”—Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
In 1974, at the age of six, Manoj Motwani traded the British private school gardens of Gwalior, India, for the brick and asphalt of Queens, New York. He recalls his elementary school, PS201, with the impersonal tone one might use to greet a stranger. If the collision of culture was not trouble enough, becoming a star student in corrective glasses would certainly make it harder for a skinny Hindu kid. It was a blue-collar neighborhood with tough kids on the playground—a place where this story begins.
“I would read to escape,” said Motwani. “Sometimes I would wish that I wasn’t so smart so that [the teachers] wouldn’t like me so much.”
Motwani’s love for the written word is distinct. “I think if my parents had let me, I would have liked to have become a writer,” he remarked. Notwithstanding his appreciation for literature is fundamental, he has a hard time sifting through a mental collection of favorite titles and authors that, alike, have inspired him through various stages of life—a considerable motif in his colloquial speech—always moving forward, always discovering.
By the time he was in high school, his family had moved to Long Island, where the schools where nicer, the population larger. The need to understand himself in new detail become more important—as it often does in adolescence—through youthful interactions, which in his parents’ opinion were deemed unnecessary.
“I wasn’t allowed to date in high school,” he said. “That just wasn’t something I got to do. I missed out on a lot . . . you learn how to deal with people and, more importantly, how to deal with yourself. I was still struggling to adapt to the culture of the United States, but I was also trying to figure myself out. I was expending a lot of energy just trying to understand where I belonged and where I fit in.
“I idled my way through everything,” he continued. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that it wasn’t going to be good enough.” Lucky for him, his lack of academic effort went almost completely unnoticed.
Dr. Manoj Motwani attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York, where he enjoyed scholarships on account of his academic excellence. Founded in 1824, RPI is the country’s oldest technological research university, and it became the place where discovery and important career choices intersected. On the one hand, his love of science and technology would be satiated, on the other, “it was a school made up of 80 percent male students,” he joked.
“Many people go into medicine because of personal contact they’ve had in the medical field. It’s usually very personal,” he explained. “I got pushed towards medicine because my dad wanted me to be a doctor.”
Dr. Manoj Motwani was also nearsighted. He began a love affair with figuring out how eyes worked in the third grade, which, like most things, ignited an unrelenting quest for answers—a baseline pushing him forward, driving him like the pulsing rhythm of EDM music which he surprisingly loves. So when he was accepted into medical school, Albany Medical College, also one of the oldest medical schools in the nation, becoming an eye surgeon was an obvious choice.
“I like knowing how things work . . . I wanted to know why I was the way I was,” he said. “The promise of laser vision correction was extraordinary to me.”
While med school proved a parental equilateral, it also afforded him the opportunity to put himself together—a marriage of his unabashed love for science and his need to understand how his own body worked, how he could fix his own sight, and maybe more.
“While I was in med school, they were already doing laser vision correction in other parts of the world,” Dr. Manoj Motwani explained, elaborating on our country’s slow progress of particular sciences per stringent regulatory limitations. “We didn’t even allow laser corrective surgeries in the U.S. until 1996,” he concluded.
“To me, it made perfect sense. Here is this tech-head guy that can build his own computer . . . I “wasted” constant hours playing video games with lasers, and now I get to use this incredible laser to fix the problem that has bedeviled me my whole life,” he explained.
While the path lay ahead, new challenges surfaced. The prospect of his career in refractive surgeries had the young doctor spinning. With limited resources available in the United States, prestigious fellowships that didn’t actually train in refractive surgery, Motwani needed a mentor.
“Refractive training was too new in this country and it was hard to find training,” he explained. “The only doctors performing the surgeries wanted us to pay to watch them. It was incredibly difficult to learn anything.” Motwani traveled all over the country looking for a way to learn the skills he desperately wanted to acquire.
“Sometimes it’s not what you know,” he said, “it’s who you know.” Dr. Enrique Suarez hailed from Venezuela, a country that was progressively implementing laser corrective surgery at the time. It was by chance that Suarez and Motwani met through a mutual friend. Touched by Motwani’s tenacity and passion, Suarez invited Motwani, now 30, to learn from his practice in Venezuela.
“The sheer volume of surgeries he was performing each day was unheard of in the States,” he explained. “I would see a dozen patients in a day and learn how to handle all the resulting problems from the ground up.”
After a brief stint in Florida, Motwani came out to San Diego at the behest of two colleagues who tried to make a go of things in a market that was growing considerably favorable to the elective surgery. Eventually, he bought out the pair and built Motwani Lasik Institute, which now stands as the second-oldest practice of its kind in San Diego.
Medical school and Dr. Suarez had prepared him for the challenges of the human eye, yet the reality of running a successful business and doing all the marketing and management were skills that required lifelong dedication. “They didn’t teach us any of that stuff in med school,” he concluded. But while the business grew and the material pleasures of his successful career blossomed, so too did new temptation.
“I was running with the wrong circles,” he said. “I was lost again, and it was a terrible time in my personal life. I was with women that loved what I had—they didn’t love me. People think that because you’re successful, drive a nice car and live in La Jolla that life is perfect. But when you’re successful and you can fix every eye that comes along, you get cocky. I wanted to understand how people worked and fix them, but people don’t work that way.”
As quickly as the eye blinks, in between moments passed, there yet remains opportunity. From outside a glass home it often seems easier to throw stones than seek shelter from within, where Dr. Manoj Motwani remained, contemplating his future with a critical eye.
“I met Lyra at a restaurant downtown,” he said. The sound of her name relaxed his shoulders as an affectionate smile spread across his face. “She’s smart and decent, beautiful and fun.”
Though guarded for several months during the beginning of their courtship, through patience and understanding Lyra has brought him back to a place where he was unsure he might ever be able to go again. Through her love he has found himself again.
“That was when I figured it out,” he said. “Now I understand where I was supposed to be years ago . . . this is the first time in my life that I am with someone that I want to be with and not someone I am ‘supposed’ to be with.”
Dr. Motwani is a respected authority in the LASIK industry, specializing in refractive surgeries that have helped thousands of people see as well as, if not better than, with the eyes they were born. His admiration for technology has allowed him to remain on the cusp of innovation, providing patients of these elective surgeries with the best care and service.
“In medicine the stakes are much higher. When you’re running a business and practicing medicine, you have to maintain integrity throughout both. You’ve got to hold your guns and stick to them.” Motwani joked that he is getting old. “I’m doing my own thing and I wouldn’t change it. How many people in this country can say they do what I do? How lucky am I?”
He and Lyra got engaged earlier this year and are enjoying the very best of San Diego’s dining, nightlife and culture, exploring the world and each other during their engagement.
Moreover, Dr. Motwani has set his sight on giving back to the community. “I’m taking the lessons my parents thought me, lessons from my faith and the great Mahatma Gandhi, and working to better the world we live in,” he said.
In 2010, Dr. Motwani rolled up his sleeves to feed the homeless of downtown San Diego at The Salvation Army. He then helped found a charity to feed the homeless, Urban Angels, which later partnered with the Connections Housing Project to provide food donations. Located on 6th and B Street, Connections has decreased homelessness in the area by 70%. Hungry for more, he started teaching and leading a goal setting class at the shelter for individuals who are struggling to find their own way. Dr. Motwani decided he was going to fix the problem one person at a time.
“Our mission is not just to help those in need, but to find solutions that solve the problem and cycle of homelessness,” he said. “To do that, you have to inspire these people to think and to fix the problems that led them to lose essentially everything.” He found a like-minded literati in the new artistic director of The Old Globe Theatre, Barry Edelstein, who brought theater workshops to Connections, with plans to bring more theater in the future.
“These people look just like you and me,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just one wrong turn. People just need help getting back on track.” In finding himself, Motwani is helping others do the same thing.
A year-and-a-half ago, Dr. Motwani underwent a two-part laser corrective surgery for his nearsightedness. Today he is looking out at the world with both eyes wide open and with a calm sense of self, developed over a lifetime—a collection of experiences that has made him whole.