Hawaii Veterinary Vision Care Treats Cats, Dogs, Tigers and Rhinos

2023 SmallBiz Editor’s Choice Award winner: Dr. Maya Yamagata specializes in eye health and vision for an unusual array of patients.
05 23 Hb Best Of Small Business Hero 04 Hawaii Veterinary Vision Care
Photo: Aaron Yoshino

For a quarter century, Dr. Maya Yamagata has cared for many kinds of animals, from cats and dogs to a rhinoceros at the Honolulu Zoo, dolphins at Sea Life Park and cattle at local farms. Her specialty: the eye health and vision of her patients.

“We have also examined the endangered ‘alala Hawaiian crow at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, and Sumatran tigers, squirrels, and nēnē at the Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo on Hawai‘i Island,” says Yamagata, a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Her patients usually come to her in much the same way other ophthalmologists get their human patients: a general veterinarian will refer a patient when an eye condition is complicated or requires a particular surgery, such as cataracts or cancer in and around the eyes. Her clinic, Hawaii Veterinary Vision Care, also provides eye examinations for working, service, and military animals so they continue providing service, she says.

Yamagata was the first veterinary ophthalmologist practicing in Hawai‘i when she started in 1997; now, she’s one of three. Travel is essential to her work, with visits to the Neighbor Islands generally every other week.

Eyes have especially intrigued her ever since high school and it was back then that she began figuring out how to combine being a veterinarian and an ophthalmologist, saying that it was a “double dream.”

However, veterinary ophthalmology is a challenging field to enter: It took Yamagata 14 years to complete training at UC Davis and Ohio State, which included undergraduate and graduate studies, veterinary school, internship, and residency.

What motivated her was her strong Christian faith. “As a Christian, I believe that God created all animals and gave humans the commission to care for them. This is the basis of why I wanted to become a veterinarian.” She emphasizes that serving God and serving others is the foundation of her career.

Her work helps both the animals and the people who care for them, and she says she’s gratified when her patients are no longer suffering.

“God created animals to have the eye as a specialized organ to help them navigate the environment and survive in the world. It amazed me that the general anatomy of the eye is so well preserved all across animal species, from the smallest bird to the largest mammal,” she says.