One Family, Three Eye Doctors: Ages 90, 59 And 32

November 21, 2017

The records were kept on paper in filing cabinets, many hand written, some typed up on a typewriter.

The contact lenses were hard – like little pieces of glass. Dr. JJ Abrams’ patients, many factory workers on the west side of Indianapolis, paid in cash.

The year was 1950. Dr. Abrams had opened up his first little optometry office at the corner of Belmont Avenue and West Washington Street. He was 22.

Years passed. He moved his office two miles west into a little house on West Washington Street. He had a son, named John. He encouraged him to go into the medical world.

Years passed. Soft contact lenses came on the scene. And computers. Dr. JJ Abrams encouraged his granddaughter Leslie to go into the medical field.

And now, here they are, nearly 70 years later. Grandfather, son and granddaughter all practicing as eye doctors.

Dr. JJ Abrams with family

Dr. JJ Abrams is 90. Son Dr. John Abrams, an ophthalmologist, is 59. Granddaughter Leslie Abrams Tobe, also an ophthalmologist, is 32.

They are believed to be one of the few – if not the only – trios of generations practicing the same medical specialty at the same time in the United States.

“The only way you can have three generations doing this is if you still have one crazy enough to work at 90,” says Dr. John Abrams, of Abrams EyeCare Associates, and an IU Health ophthalmologist. “It takes so many years to get through the schooling, so you’d have to have three working at 90, 60 and 30.”

And the Abrams do. And it’s tremendous.

***

The star of this eye doctor show, of course, is the elder Abrams. He’s the one who truly is doing something fascinating.

He turned 90 in April. He practices two days a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays – from noon to 4 p.m.

“Why do I still work? I don’t want to grow old and feeble and lose my mentality,” says Dr. JJ Abrams. “I want to keep sharp as long as I can.”

Dr. JJ Abrams

Sharp? He’s got that covered. Every Tuesday night, Dr. JJ Abrams plays duplicate bridge for two hours. It’s a competitive form of the card game.

He drives day and night. He has a girlfriend, Mary Ruth, who is 82. They have a standing dinner date every Saturday night to try different restaurants.

As for his career, Dr. JJ Abrams never really made it a goal to keep working into his 90s, but he says he has no plans to retire. He truly loves this profession.

And he tells stories fondly of all 68 years he’s been doing it.

There is the little girl. She was 10 when Dr. JJ Abrams fitted her for her first pair of glasses. He still fits her for glasses. She is in her 60s.

He has seen generations of families come through his office door to read the “E” atop the eye chart. Dr. JJ Abrams has become a part of their families.

***

Born April 2, 1927, Dr. JJ Abrams grew up with a father in the motion picture business doing film distribution.

“He had nothing to do with eyes,” Dr. JJ Abrams says. But his dad had a good friend who was an optometrist and he encouraged his son to go into the field.

Dr. JJ Abrams went to Indiana University for a year, then to the United States Navy. After serving, he decided he would take his dad’s suggestion.

There was no optometry school at IU yet, so he went the next closest place – Chicago.

After three years at the Illinois College of Optometry – it was a 4-year program but Dr. JJ Abrams finished early -- he started his optometry practice.

It opened on Jan. 19, 1950. As he practiced, he had a family. Jeff, his other son, didn’t get along well with blood and needles. The medical field wasn’t for him; law was.

But John showed interest. He came to his dad’s office during high school at North Central, doing handyman jobs -- painting, installing a garage door opener, putting up a fence. Once in residency, he worked Saturdays moonlighting at his dad’s office.

Today, Dr. John Abrams has three locations in Carmel and Indianapolis. He specializes in cataract surgery and LASIK. He’s also been the eye doctor for the Indiana Pacers for nearly three decades.

“He’ll probably retire before me,” Dr. JJ Abrams says of his son.

Dr. JJ Abrams with family

“It’s a lot of pressure because I can’t retire before him,” says Dr. John Abrams, who has been married 34 years and also has a son, who works for Google. “It would be embarrassing to the family.”

And while it was wonderful having his son follow in his career footsteps, Dr. JJ Abrams is especially proud of his granddaughter.

“I thought it was just great,” he says.

Dr. Abrams Tobe says she became interested in medicine in high school. She liked her science classes a lot. She went to the office with her dad and watched him perform surgery.

Still, she went into medical school with an open mind. The eye specialty drew her in.

“I liked how specialized it is,” says Dr. Abrams Tobe, who is married with an 8-month-old daughter. “I liked that it was surgery and time in the office. You get to build relationships with people. Once I went through everything else, I realized this is what I wanted to do.”

Dr. Abrams Tobe specializes in the same surgeries as her dad, but also focuses on retinal diseases and injections for treatment.

“I like that a lot,” she says. “You can really get a lot of improvement in the vision. You can really go from not seeing much at all to seeing really well.”

***

And now, it’s time to take a photo of the three generations. Dr. JJ Abrams follows his son and granddaughter into the exam room.

“Don’t look too bad for 90 do I?” he asks as he fixes his collar in that mirror where patients read the charts.

No, Dr. JJ Abrams. You most certainly do not.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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