Written by Steven Blackburn / Photography by Stan Godlewski
The philanthropic generosity of a UConn Health dermatologist, combined with a team of physicians and nurses whose collective knowledge of laser treatment exceeds industry standards, provides unparalleled patient care and education for the next generation of doctors.
Dr. Maritza I. Perez, now a full-time physician at UConn Health’s Department of Dermatology, initially split her time between her private practice in New Canaan and UConn’s medical center in Farmington. After UConn Health presented her with an opportunity to focus entirely on academia there, she not only accepted the offer but donated her extensive supply of lasers from her private practice to the Department of Dermatology.
“Rather than just sell them, I wanted to give my lasers to UConn Health so they could benefit everyone and allow us to provide more complete and inclusive laser procedures,” said Dr. Perez.
Her donation coincided with a major expansion for the Department of Dermatology, which now includes a dedicated laser center about a mile from the UConn John Dempsey Hospital at 21 South Road in Farmington.
Minimizing Downtime So Patients Can Return to Normal Life
By employing an extensive array of lasers, UConn Health can avoid performing invasive treatments, which can prolong recovery time.
“Invasive procedures come with weeks and weeks of downtime,” said Dr. Philip Kerr, chair of the UConn Health Department of Dermatology. “This is especially the case for patients who have extensive plastic surgery or skin procedures called dermabrasions since they wouldn’t feel comfortable going outside in public without wearing wound dressings, for example.”
UConn Health’s lasers greatly reduce the overall downtime for patients so they get back to their regular routines.
“The recovery time isn’t just quicker with lasers. They generate the best results because they only target the affected area of your skin that needs treatment,” added Dr. Hao Feng, director of laser surgery and cosmetic dermatology. “By leaving the rest of your skin alone that doesn’t require treatment, damage is prevented in those areas while maximizing the treatment for the affected areas, leading to faster recovery time.”
Fitting Lasers to Patients, Not Patients to Lasers
Dr. Perez’s donation allows her and Dr. Feng to, among other things, treat pigmentation issues and revitalize the skin with Laser Genesis. However, it’s the expertise of Drs. Perez and Feng that truly yields a unique and unparalleled form of treatment.
“Any institution can have a device, but you have to be able to understand which device is best for the patient to truly get the best results,” explained Dr. Feng, who attributes UConn Health’s unique approach to fitting lasers to patients as opposed to fitting patients to lasers. “To treat a condition, we have multiple devices that can do the same thing on a large scale, but on more refined and individualized levels, there are crucial differences, and that’s where we are very unique.”
For example, a patient with broken blood vessels and redness due to a condition known as rosacea can be treated with UConn Health’s pulse bi-lasers or a seven-laser XEO platform for rejuvenation, vascular treatment, hair removal and more. “The bi-laser has one specific wavelength and very specific pulse durations for broken blood vessels, and our XEO has two specific wavelengths and a myriad of pulse durations that you can alter and cater to every blood vessel in the legs or any part of the body,” said Dr. Perez. “This allows us to cater to every single blood vessel from head to toe.”
Saving Connecticut Residents Time with Unmatched, Fully Trained Team
Accounting for every laser at UConn Health, the only laser center that rivals or comes close is a practice in Stamford. With UConn’s Farmington campus, it’s another option that requires less travel for many Connecticut residents. Without UConn Health, Northern Connecticut residents not wanting to risk taking I-95 would’ve had to travel out of state.
As Dr. Kerr noted, it’s also rare to have not only two fellowship-trained dermatologists who are experts in laser use, like Drs. Feng and Perez, but a full team of nurses with extensive knowledge as well.
“After working in private practice, I can tell you that it is going to be hard to find a registered nurse who will be next to you during these procedures with the level of knowledge they have at UConn Health,” commented Dr. Perez. “Our registered nurses who help us are a luxury we can afford because we want to deliver the best service.”
Dr. Mary Wu Chang is board certified in pediatrics, dermatology and pediatric dermatology. She has devoted her career to the care of infants, children and adolescents. Dr. Chang is one of the few dermatologists in Connecticut who performs pulsed dye laser on infants and children.
“The pulsed dye laser is a ‘classic’ laser and remains one of the safest and most useful lasers for vascular skin lesions,” said Dr. Chang, who treats hemangiomas, port wine birthmarks, rosacea and scars with the pulsed dye laser.
Ensuring More Physicians Can Provide Unrivaled Care
Since UConn Health is an academic center, Drs. Perez, Feng, Chang and Kerr work alongside dermatology residents and medical students, most of whom are studying through UConn’s School of Medicine.
“Since we perform laser procedures, our residents and medical students get to learn firsthand and receive hands-on training with these devices, which is a critical component of their residency and education,” said Dr. Perez. “Having the ability to see state-of-the-art laser surgery being performed by expert clinicians who are fellowship trained in the use of lasers is so important.”
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve had 36 UConn dermatology residents, and we can proudly say that all of them have graduated, passed their board exams and gone on to build successful practices,” Dr. Kerr added.
UConn Health’s affiliation with the University of Connecticut system also provides the Department of Dermatology with extra support during emergencies. In fact, UConn Health recently benefited from these connections during COVID-19’s nationwide shortage of a local anesthetic, which is still in effect.
“During COVID, there was a shortage of lidocaine, and many healthcare facilities were having a hard time getting this,” recalled Dr. Kerr. “We were fortunate enough that our UConn Health administrators work with the proper distributors, so we never had an interruption in our supply.”
Empowering Patients to Stay Healthy and Safe
Drs. Perez, Feng and Kerr always provide advice and tips for current and future patients to fast-track the healing process to either minimize or prevent the need for future treatment. For example, they advise anyone with eczema to check their own skin once a month. “There is no one-size-fits-all treatment,” said Dr. Kerr. “We just advocate that people see their primary care doctor, and if they feel a dermatologist is warranted, then we are happy to see the patient.”
As for those seeking laser treatment, now is the opportune time, especially for facial rejuvenation treatments, and for people of color or with darker skin tones, as there is less sun exposure in the winter. “After a laser is administered, exposure to the sun will always translate to hyperpigmentation for those with darker skin, which needs to be avoided,” mentioned Dr. Perez.
“At UConn Health, we strive to always be at the forefront of the newest medical information, the latest technologies, innovative peer reviews and other quality measures we engage in that many other practices don’t,” Dr. Kerr concluded. “This ensures quality, effective treatments and patient safety.
Steven Blackburn is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of journalism experience in various fields, including U.S. education and Connecticut community interest stories. He lives in Winsted.
Stan Godlewski is an editorial, corporate and healthcare photographer based in Connecticut and working primarily between Boston and New York City.