Some years ago, I was privileged to attend a lecture by Sir Harold Ridley, the ophthalmologist who made a discovery which started a revolution in the treatment of cataracts.
A cataract occurs when the lens inside the eye loses its clarity, resulting in blurred vision. Worldwide, this is still the most common cause of blindness.
Exceptional achievements are often the result of opportunity presenting to a receptive mind.
In 1940, while working at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, Ridley noticed that Perspex fragments from a shattered cockpit canopy, which had embedded in a pilot’s eye, did not cause any adverse reaction.
This observation led to the development of a revolutionary concept for treating cataracts.
At that time the only treatment was to remove the patient’s natural lens. Although this eliminated the cause of blindness, very thick, heavy and inefficient spectacles were required to restore focus.
An alternative method which was effective for some was the use of contact lenses. However, teaching elderly patients to insert contact lenses was not without its challenges.
Ridley, together with an optical scientist, designed a lens which could be inserted into the eye, thereby replacing the patient’s natural lens and restoring clear focus. In 1949 he implanted the first intraocular lens.
As with many pioneers he encountered considerable resistance, in this case from the medical profession, but with support he was able to continue with the development of the concept.
While the original lenses had many limitations, subsequent designs and refinements in techniques have made this the one of the most successful operations worldwide and is the standard form of cataract treatment which has restored clear and efficient vision to more than an estimated 300 million people around the world.