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Millions of people who have had cataracts had their cloudy lenses replaced with intraocular lenses. A wide variety are now available, including those that treat astigmatism, those that help people see both near and far without corrective lenses, and those that reduce halos around lights at night. But did you know that the inspiration for this medical treatment has its origins in a World War II injury?

Cataracts are a very common eye condition where the natural lens gets cloudy over time. Age, diabetes, trauma, and exposure to UV rays are some common causes of cataracts. When the lens gets cloudy enough that surgery is required, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens, or IOL. Cataract surgery is very common, with 3 million people getting the procedure each year.

But prior to this, cataract surgery was not as effective. The cloudy lens was either removed but not replaced, or it was broken up into small pieces. Patients still had to wear glasses to compensate for their poor vision. One of the doctors who treated cataracts at this time, and who eventually developed intraocular lenses, was an English ophthalmologist named Harold Ridley.

During World War II Ridley found himself treating British Royal Air Force pilots with eye injuries. One of those pilots was Gordon “Mouse” Cleaver. On August 15, 1940, Cleaver went up for a combat mission but forgot his goggles. While in the air his plane was shot. It burst into flames, and shards from the canopy became lodged in his eyes. He managed to bail out and made it safely to the ground.

While being operated on, his doctor – Ridley – noticed his eye didn’t attempt to reject the Perspex lodged in it, like it normally would if a foreign object was in it.

After the war, while treating cataract patients Ridley remembered what happened with Cleaver’s eye. He had the first intraocular lens manufactured and he implanted it in 1949. In 1951 he published and presented his work for peer review. Unfortunately, the medical community refused to embrace this development. He became something of a pariah and, while he continued his work refining the lens, decades passed before intraocular lenses became commonly accepted.

In the 1970s doctors outside England started implanting intraocular lenses, and in 1981 the FDA finally approved them for use in America. Even Cleaver, the pilot whose injured eye inspired Ridley, received his own intraocular lens in 1987. Ridley, too, received IOLs of his own, in the same hospital where he first performed the surgery.

Ridley eventually received the accolades he deserved. He became widely recognized for his work, and not just in the medical community. In honor of the work he did to restore sight to millions of people around the world, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 2000, one year before he died.

CEENTA’s eye doctors are no strangers to intraocular lenses. Last year our 22 cataract surgeons treated more than 6,800 patients, implanting the newest IOLs as today’s medical experts continue to refine and improve upon Ridley’s innovation.

To make an appointment with one of CEENTA’s cataract physicians, call 704-295-3000.


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