Life Lessons From An Ironman

Life Lessons From An Ironman
Issue 4 // 3rd Quarter // 2013 Category:Purpose By: Edward L. Flom

When you think of a classical renaissance man, images of great historical figures such as Da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo or Copernicus may come to mind, or more recent examples such as Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. Great men such as these are not relegated to the past. We had the honor to speak with such a man, a contemporary “renaissance” man, Dr. James P. Gills, Jr.

Dr. Gills is a world-renowned ocular surgeon who has performed more cataract and lens implant surgeries than any other eye surgeon in the world. He founded the St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute with six offices in Florida and over thirty eye clinics around the world, where he has trained numerous resident surgeons. Since St. Luke’s opened in 1974, Dr. Gills has been at the cutting edge of innovation in his field and dedicated his medical practice to the discovery and perfection of cataract surgery techniques that have given clear vision to thousands of patients around the world. He has received numerous medical and educational awards including the Duke Medical Alumni Association’s Humanitarian Award; was elected to the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars; and was also selected to receive the Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award, the highest honor bestowed by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His medical career would be demanding for even the most ambitious medical professional, but is just one facet of this amazing man’s life.

Accomplished Author

Drawing his inspiration from his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Dr. Gills is a prolific writer with over thirty books to his credit, most of which are about sharing the message of hope that God promises all of us. He also has a publishing company, Love Press, where he freely distributes over 40,000 books per month. Many of these books are shipped directly to prisons across the country. With the exception of the Bible, he is the most widely read and requested author in the prison system. Dr. Gills has also written or co-written ten medical reference textbooks and nearly 200 medical articles.

Successful Businessman

Dr. Gills is also a successful businessman and developer and a member of the Explorer’s Club. This is a prestigious society that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. He has been selected as the Entrepreneur of the Year for the State of Florida, received the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame Award, the Florida Enterprise Medal and was honored as Free Enterpriser of the Year by the Florida Council on Economic Education.

Dr. Gills is a proponent of empowering others to fulfill God’s vision. His close association with the International Cooperating Ministries (ICM) church planters illustrates this principle. ICM buys and donates the land for a new church and contributes forty percent of the building costs to launch the initial place of worship. The future congregation and the incoming pastor must not only fund their sixty percent of the remaining building costs but further commit to launching five new churches in five years under the same terms and conditions. ICM has planted close to four thousand churches in fifty-six countries, and those churches have raised up twenty thousand more daughter congregations!

"If you just give something, it often amounts to nothing. You must get involved in relationships to ensure that it grows and endures."Dr. James P. Gills

You see, when you structure all activities to truly fulfill the needs of others, you take the pressure off of yourself. The Lord then steps in and is the One who opens the doors and inspires others to work in relationship with you.”

Benevolent Philanthropist

He has applied these same principles to the founding of over thirty international cataract clinics. Each clinic invites eighteen residents to learn the techniques that have become standard protocol in the ocular specialty. These eighteen residents are then sent back to the villages of their own country to treat patients in need. It’s the theory of multiplication at work, in more ways than one. In addition to teaching the students how to restore physical vision to their patients, they are given spiritual training as well to pass on to their village patients. This understanding of the dual pathways of vision, the natural and the supernatural, originated from Dr. Gill’s practice at his first clinic, where patients were often given an individualized scripture before surgery. Dr. Gill’s son, Pit, inspired by his father’s work in building these clinics throughout Central and South America, completed ten missionary trips to those regions before he entered medical school on his way to becoming a physician on staff at St. Luke’s Clinic.

In addition to his spiritual and professional philanthropic endeavors, Dr. Gills is also a world-class, endurance athlete. He has participated in multiple Ironman Triathlons and a record-setting six Double Ironman Triathlons. His passion for triathlons ran so deep that he purchased the Ironman Brand and World Triathlon Corporation (he has since sold them). He has competed in over forty-six marathons, including eighteen Boston Marathons and fourteen 100-mile mountain runs.

Humble Servant

With so many feats of significance to his credit, Dr. Gills maintains the humility of a servant. He says, “Everything is a catalyst for the character of Jesus Christ by the inspired Word of God filling the souls of men. Of course, everything comes from God,” he replied. “I see a need and an outcome and then I find the very best people to achieve that outcome. For example, I saw a need to free our cataract patients to go home on the day of surgery instead of spending two or three days in the hospital in recovery. We thought the outcome might be manifested in approaching the treatment of the eye in an entirely new way.”

"Everything is a catalyst for the character of Jesus Christ...I see a need and an outcome and then I find the very best people to achieve that outcome."Dr. James P. Gills

“There was a friend of mine in Chicago who happens to know everything there is to know about the inner workings of the eye. He is a scientist who fully grasps their physiology and the mechanics of vision.” Dr. Gills went on to explain, “You know, if you really understand the way the eye works, then you can be certain that God exists. It’s absolutely extraordinary, perfect in design! Well, I spent a few days with this friend and came home with an innovative surgical technique that changed the way we treated cataracts. If you give for others, others supply everything.”

Family Man

None of Dr. Gills’ endeavors has been at the expense of his family. He has been married to his wife and best friend Heather for 51 years. She has always been actively involved in his missionary and philanthropic efforts. They have two children, Shea and Pit. Shea Gills Grundy is a former attorney and is now a full-time mom. She and her husband, Shane Grundy, M.D., have four children: twins Maggie and Braddock, Jimmy, and Lily Grace. The Gills’ son, J. Pit Gills, M.D., following in his father’s footsteps, is an ophthalmologist on staff at St. Luke’s. He and his wife, Joy, have three children: Pitzer, Parker, and Stokes. You’ll seldom find the smile on Dr. Gills’ face larger than when he is doting over his grandchildren. Having the support of a strong family has allowed Dr. Gills to pursue God’s calling for him.

He is acutely aware of the struggles of our country in general and the family unit in particular. “We are in a state of constant awakening to the character of Jesus Christ by the inspired Word of God. It is imperative that we pass this on to our children. I started to write the books on Christian living to get my own children to listen. There is so much we can do to inspire people to embrace the words of Jesus Christ.” He thought for a moment to reflect on where his priorities are now focused and continued, “You know, it is no longer a given that a medical practice will succeed. I still do some surgery, but I have turned over the day-to-day operations of St. Luke’s to a management team. I am now spending four times my annual cash flow on endeavors that spread the love of Christ and the Gospel to others. That’s where the greatest need lies, and Jesus Christ is the way.”

When talking with Dr. Gills, it is remarkable how fully engaged he is in the conversation. When answering questions, his replies are always thought provoking and multi-layered. He weaves in history, family, scripture, ethics, science, faith, economic impact and the character of Jesus into almost every answer. He deflects all praise to the One who is worthy of all praise, with the humility of the least among us.

Always aware of his schedule, the good Doctor glances at his watch and graciously bade us farewell, on his way to a round of golf, which will undoubtedly include a dose of contemplative discussion with his golf partners.

*Editor’s Note: Shortly before going to print with this issue, our friend and brother in Christ, Eddie, was called home to be with his Lord. His fervent love for God was an inspiration to all who knew him.

In loving memory of Edward L. Flom

1957 - 2013

Edward L. Flom

By: Edward L. Flom

Edward L. Flom is a founding contributor of TwoTen Magazine and the author of the book Thirty Three: The Story of Hope. You can find out more about the book by visiting:

*Editor’s Note: Shortly before going to print with Issue 4 of TwoTen Magazine, our friend and brother in Christ, Eddie, was called home to be with his Lord. His fervent love for God was an inspiration to all who knew him.

In loving memory of Edward L. Flom

1957 - 2013


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