Gunilla Haegerstrom-Portnoy, OD, PhD, FAAO
Member, Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame
Gunilla Haegerstrom-Portnoy (GHP) was born in 1949 and raised in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. She spent her high school sophomore year in Evanston, Illinois living with her aunt Christina Enroth-Cugell, MD, PhD, also a vision scientist. In 1967, she arrived in Berkeley for one year of undergraduate training prior to entering the School of Optometry where she graduated with the OD degree in 1972. She returned to Sweden briefly but returned to the US in 1973 and worked as a research assistant/associate at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute with Tony Adams, Mert Flom and Brian Brown. From 1975 to 1984 she taught in the strabismus clinic at the School of Optometry and also worked in the San Francisco private practice of Arthur Jampolsky. GHP returned to graduate training in 1980 and completed a PhD in Physiological Optics in 1983 under the mentorship of Tony Adams. She was appointed Assistant Professor of Optometry and Physiological Optics at the School in 1984 and became Associate Professor in 1989 and Professor in 1995.
GHP’s earliest research was related to studies in normal human color vision, ERGs, and the effect of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs on vision and the eye. She worked for many years with a large population of patients with achromatopsia who lacked color vision. In the early 1990’s with collaborators at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute they began a 15-year landmark longitudinal study of vision of aging in a population of 900 people living in Marin County. Other research contributions included the study of the vision of multiple-handicapped children, diagnostic tests for progression of macular degeneration and the effects of drugs on color vision. Her research was supported by 4 different NEI/NIH grants over 30 years of support.
In conjunction with Deborah Orel-Bixler and Amanda Hall in the 1980’s they started the School of Optometry’s Special Visual Assessment Clinic. This clinic specializes in assessing the vision of multi-handicapped children including non-verbal children with cerebral palsy using tests developed for infant vision research as well as the Visual Evoked Potential. This clinic continues under the supervision of Dr. Orel-Bixler and provides a unique opportunity for training students and residents.
In 1992, GHP was appointed Assistant/Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, a position which she held for 29 years through the tenure of three deans. Her responsibilities concerned most aspects of the school’s administrative activities including teaching assignments, faculty merits and promotions, space planning, training grants and internal and external annual reports.
Her service to the profession included serving on the National Advisory Eye Council of NEI from 2004-2009, as member and Chair of the Research Committee of the American Academy of Optometry, involvement in ASCO’s committee structure including Chair of the Chief Academic Officer’s group, and Topical Editor of Optometry and Vision Science.
Over her career GHP lectured on strabismus diagnosis and management to nearly 1800 optometry students, and theories of basic color vision to nearly 150 Vision Science graduate students. For over 30 years she also dedicated one day each week examining children clinically.
She received the Glenn A. Fry Award from the American Academy of Optometry in 2003 presented annually “to a distinguished scientist or clinician scientist in recognition of the quality, significance, impact, and relevance to optometry of their current research contributions”.
The Garland Clay award from the American Academy of Optometry was given to her in 2004 for the most cited paper in OVS in the prior 5 years.
She also received the Dr. Michael Harris Classroom teaching award from the School of Optometry in 2005 and the Michael G. Harris Family Award for Excellence in Optometric Education from the American Academy of Optometry November 2009. She retired in June 2021.