Giving thanks by giving back

A grateful patient shows his appreciation for a Waterloo optometry alumnus with the establishment of a new scholarship award

Dr. Stelios Nikalakakis headshot
When Spero Bassil suffered a retinal detachment, he turned to the optometrist he calls Dr. Nik to help guide him through the grueling recovery process.

“It was a really scary injury. When I was looking for an optometrist, a friend recommended I meet with Dr. Nik,” said Mr. Bassil. “Early on in our sessions, I could see how committed Dr. Nik is to his patients. He really does go above and beyond to make sure we get the best care possible.”

To show his appreciation, Mr. Bassil wanted to honour Dr. Nik (Dr. Stelios Nikolakakis) in a way that he knew aligned with their shared values – by offering a helping hand to aspiring optometrists who exemplify the spirit of patient-centred care. With that goal in mind, he established the Dr. Stelios Nikolakakis Award for Clinical Excellence in Vision Therapy at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision Science.

When Dr. Nikolakakis learned about this award, he was absolutely floored. “The appreciation [Mr. Bassil] has shown me is incredible. He has set the bar high, and now it’s my turn to raise it even higher - to give this award the energy it needs so we can have an impact on as many students as we can.”

From Waterloo to the profession

As an alumnus of the School, Dr. Nikolakakis has chosen to stay close to his alma mater. He continues to support alumni fundraising initiatives and has completed a ten-year stint as a clinical instructor – all while juggling patients at his own private practice in Etobicoke, Ontario.

When given the opportunity, Dr. Nikolakakis relishes mentoring young optometry students on the cusp of their careers. He is quick to remind them about the importance of patient-centred care and how their own life lessons can help them better serve their communities.

For Stelios, this was especially true when he was introduced to vision therapy after his son Gabriel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of two. A colleague noticed Gabriel displaying a primitive reflex called Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex and suggested that vision therapy would make a significant difference to his son’s quality of life. Despite his background as an optometrist, Dr. Nikolakakis was new to the concept of vision therapy. Over the next four years, he dedicated himself to learning as much as he could about the practice by taking a series of vision therapy education courses in the United States, while continuing his work as an optometrist and clinical instructor.

“Vision therapy has been a gift to me both personally and professionally,” said Dr. Nikolakakis. “[With the help of vision therapy], my son is doing unbelievable things now. It’s astounding how many people are living with vision-related learning disabilities and have never been diagnosed.”

“With the implementation of vision therapy in my own clinic, I know we’re changing lives every day.”

Celebrating patient-centred care

Dr. Sydney Carmichael headshot
In June 2021, the Dr. Stelios Nikolakakis Award for Clinical Excellence in Vision Therapy was awarded for the first time to Dr. Sydney Carmichael, a graduating student who demonstrated exceptional patient-centred care and affinity for the practice of vision therapy.

For her, it’s extremely rewarding to help motivate her patients to continue making progress in their treatments, even when they’re up against extraordinary challenges like traumatic brain injuries. “I am so grateful to receive this award,” said Dr. Carmichael. “It encourages me to continue to advocate for my patients and do what I can to be a positive impact on their lives!”

To Dr. Carmichael and the Class of 2021 at large, Dr. Nikolakakis encourages you to continue to look beyond the diagnosis to see the patient as a whole person in your daily work.

“Whether it's colleagues, patients, or family and friends, lead with that desire in your heart. If you let that passion shine through, I know you’re on the way to building a successful career in the best profession in the world.”