Mike Siatkowski thought about a career in architecture and also considered a career as a musician.
Fortunately for the medical world, the Cresson native chose medicine and today is a national leader in the profession of ophthalmology.
"I always liked biology and science and working with people, so medicine was an easy fit," the 1982 graduate of Penn Cambria High School said.
Dr. Mike Siatkowski performs a procedure on a young patient.
Today, Siatkowski, 46, is vice chairman for Academic Affairs and the James P. Luton Chair in Ophthalmology at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City, the home of the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Oklahoma.
The son of Raymond and Jane Siatkowski, he is one of only 18 ophthalmologists in the United States who perform both neuro and pediatric ophthalmology.
After graduating from Penn Cambria, Siatkowski headed to Penn State University where he received a bachelor of science degree in general science in 1985.
He received a doctor of medicine from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1987. From 1987-91 he completed an internship and then a residency in ophthalmology at St. Francis Medical Center in Pittsburgh.
He then went to the University of Miami, Florida, for a fellowship in neuro-ophthalmology and a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus (more commonly known as being cross-eyed). In 1993 he joined the faculty at the University of Miami Medical School as an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and became an associate professor in 1999.
He also served as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and the Department of Neurological Surgery from 1995 to 1999.
While at Miami, he met Rhea McDonough - a ranked USTA tennis player - who was attending medical school.
"She was looking for a hitting partner and we started to practice. We were dating others at that time. I realized there was something more," Siatkowski said.
Because he was one of her professors - even though they were the same age - he asked the department chair and then the dean if it would be possible to start dating her. He said they didn't start dating until she had completed his classes. The couple were married in 1998.
In 1999, Siatkowski moved on to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, where he served as associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology until 2003, when he became a professor.
Siatkowski was named vice chairman for academic affairs in 2009 and the James P. Luton Chair in Ophthalmology in 2010.
His wife, Dr. Rhea Siatkowski, also is a respected ophthalmologist at the Dean McGee Eye Institute.
Siatkowski has made his mark at the institute, said Dr. Gregory L. Skuta, president and chief executive officer.
"Dr. Siatkowski clearly has established himself as a national leader in the profession of ophthalmology. In addition to being a truly outstanding clinician and surgeon who is revered by his patients, he is a gifted educator, devoted mentor and superb role model who has received numerous teaching awards at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami as well as the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City.
His scholarly activities, involvement in national studies and prolific publication record also are very impressive," Skuta said. "As vice chair for Academic Affairs, Mike has demonstrated outstanding leadership and administrative skills in advancing the Institute's multiple missions."
Siatkowski has authored nearly 80 peer-viewed publications.
On a national level, he has been a leader in the American Academy of Ophthalmology, serves as a director of the American Board of Ophthalmology and will likely be president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus within the next few years, Skuta said.
Siatkowski has been involved in numerous research projects. He said he is most proud of his role as principal investigator in the Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity, a disease that affects premature babies. The study was conducted at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
"We did two large studies funded by the National Eye Institute and are ready to start a third study on March 1," he said.
Siatkowski, who has won numerous teaching awards, said in a typical week he spends 2 to three days seeing patients in the office, a half day to a full day in surgery and devotes the remaining time to research and administrative and academic duties.
He said he really enjoys teaching.
"I lecture medical students several times a year and the residents 15 to 20 times a year," Siatkowski said. "The greatest impact is if you can teach someone else to do something well and they can teach others."
Siatkowski said he has had several role models but points out two of his professors at the University of Miami - the late Dr. J. Lawton Smith and Dr. John Flynn - as those who had the greatest influence on his career.
Siatkowski studied under Smith during his neuro-ophthalmology fellowship and under Flynn during his pediatric ophthalmology fellowship.
"They were just unbelievable physicians who were world famous and taught me more than I can repay. We became friends; that was the ultimate tribute," Siatkowski said. "They treated me with respect and as an equal from the very beginning, and that made a great impact on me."
Smith died in January and left behind written instructions for Siatkowski to deliver his eulogy.
"I was very touched. It was one of the hardest talks I had to give," he said.
Among those who played a role in Siatkowski's early development were Clayton Burkey, his high school chemistry teacher, and Gail Peduzzi, his elementary music teacher, from whom Siatkowski took piano lessons. In addition to his medical skills, Siatkowski is an accomplished pianist.
Both Burkey and Peduzzi remember him fondly.
"He was an exceptional and marvelous student. He was dedicated, honest and had irrepressible character. He was quite bright and very studious," Burkey said. "He worked very hard and did exceptionally well in anything he touched."
"He could read music like a champion. He was so talented it was incredible. He was so bright in everything," Peduzzi said.
Siatkowski said he returns to the area every other year for summer vacation, and his parents visit his family in Oklahoma several times a year.
"I do not miss the winter driving at all," he said of his hometown, but added there are similarities to where he now lives. "The quality of life in Oklahoma and the people are similar to here."
Childhood friend Ted Westin Jr., owner of Westin Real Estate and Tax Service, Cresson, said he and his friend stay in touch.
"Mike is one of the smartest people I have ever met, but he is so down to earth," Westin said.
Gene Kowaleski of Hollidaysburg - who joined the Pennsylvania State Police with Siatkowski's father in 1952 - has known Siatkowski since he was a child.
"He is very intellectual. He excelled in school and in medical school. He was far advanced in his class," Kowaleski said. "Our kids Julie and Thomas played with him as children. He would spend summers at our pool."
Siatkowski cites a combination of factors for his success.
"Obviously you have to work hard and apply yourself. I was fortunate to train with people who were prominent and they knew other prominent people. The more you meet, the more you learn," Siatkowski said. "You also learn a lot from your mistakes."
He said he is a religious man who tries to keep his priorities in order.
"I try to make my first priority to serve God and show His love to the people around me, then to meet the needs of my wife and kids to the best of my ability, then to serve my patients and the people that I teach," Siatkowski said.
"Even with his extraordinary professional achievements, Mike conducts himself with grace and self-effacing humor and also is a wonderfully devoted husband and father to his wife and their three beautiful children," Skuta said. "We are very proud to have [him] as an outstanding member of our faculty."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.