Patricia Bath the woman who invented laser cataract surgery

by Cathy FOFANA
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Patricia Bath, ophthalmologist and laser specialist, was an innovative researcher in the treatment and cure of blindness. She invented a new technique for cataract surgery called laserphaco, and was responsible for the creation of a new discipline called “community ophthalmology”.

She was also the first female chair of ophthalmology in the United States, at Drew-UCLA in 1983. She received her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., interned at Harlem Hospital from 1968 to 1969, and was a research fellow in ophthalmology at Columbia University from 1969 to 1970. Following her internship, Dr. Bath completed her training at New York University between 1970 and 1973, where she was the first African-American woman to intern in ophthalmology.

Dr Patricia Bath
Dr Patricia Bath

She also conducted a retrospective epidemiological study, which showed that blindness among blacks was twice as high as among whites. She concluded that the high prevalence of blindness among blacks was due to lack of access to eye care. As a result, she proposed a new discipline, known as Community Ophthalmology, which is now operational worldwide.

In 1974, Bath joined the faculty of UCLA and Charles R. Drew University as Assistant Professor of Surgery (Drew) and Ophthalmology (UCLA). The following year she became the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. Despite university policies advocating equality and condemning discrimination, Professor Bath experienced many instances of sexism and racism throughout her tenure at UCLA and Drew. As a result, she decided to take her research abroad, in Europe. Her work has been accepted for its merits at the Laser Medical Center in Berlin, West Germany, the Rothschild Eye Institute in Paris, France, and the Loughborough Institute of Technology in England.

Dr. Bath was also a scientist and inventor of the laser. Her interest, experience and research on cataracts led her to invent a new device and method to eliminate cataracts: the laserphaco probe. When she designed this device in 1981, her idea was more advanced than the technology available at the time. It took her almost five years to complete the research and testing required to make it work and to file a patent application. Today, the device is in use around the world. Thanks to this keratoprosthesis device, Dr. Bath has been able to restore sight to many blind people for over 30 years.

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