The ophthalmic community mourns the loss of Roger Steinert, MD, an internationally renowned and respected corneal, cataract, and refractive surgeon who pioneered advances in laser surgery techniques and corneal transplantation. Dr. Steinert passed away on June 6 at the age of 66 after a 2 ½-year battle with glioblastoma.
He was founding director of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine (UCI), which opened in 2013, and at the time of his death was also the Irving H. Leopold Professor and Chair of UCI’s Department of Ophthalmology.
"Dr. Steinert was a dedicated and beloved member of our campus community who fervently advocated for the establishment and success of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute,” said Howard Gillman, UCI chancellor. "His bold vision, inspiring research and devotion to his colleagues, students and patients made him one of the most accomplished, celebrated and well-liked experts of his time."
Dr. Steinert was also a clinical professor at Harvard Medical School for 20 years before he joined UCI in 2004. He also served as president of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) from 2005 to 2006.
He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1977, was a fellow at the New England Eye Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Wellesley Hills, MA, and a resident at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), Boston.
As director of MEEI’s Cornea Service, he demonstrated the safety of excimer lasers for refractive correction, which laid the groundwork for LASIK surgery.
Over the course of his career, he recieced the 2009 Life Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award from the New England Ophthalmological Society, and the 2016 Distinguished Clinical Achievement Award from Harvard Ophthalmology, to name a few.
After Dr. Steinert received his diagnosis in 2014, he decided to continue actively working, even attending the ASCRS meeting in Los Angeles a few weeks before his passing.
Shortly before he passed, an adult beverage—The Steinert—was named after him which is half vodka, half gin, garnished with blue cheese-stuffed olives. The “Steinert Challenge” was created as a fundraiser which encouraged peers and colleagues to sample the beverage in his honor and donate to The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute (www.eye.uci.edu) or The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (http://www.cancer.uci.edu/).
Dr. Steinert was an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and would wear his team’s baseball hat whenever he had the chance.
He is survived by his wife, April, his three children, and three stepchildren.
Ophthalmic community remembers Dr. Steinert:
“I had the privilege of knowing Roger for many, many years. We had a very close relationship as we cultivated and built [the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute]. He was a man of great humility, but excellence in our industry— and those things don’t go hand in hand. You have to have that balance, and he had that by far.
Over 38 years, I’ve watched thousands upon thousands of surgeries, but I have never seen a man’s hands kind of melt into the eyes of his patients like his did. He had amazing surgical hands and was one of best surgeons I’ve ever seen—but he’d never tout that.”
James Mazzo, global president, Strategic Business Unit Ophthalmic Devices, Carl Zeiss Meditec
“Roger Steinert will be sorely missed. He was a true giant whose work and research transformed what we now take for granted in the field of refractive and corneal surgery. Roger had a generosity of spirit that was unmatched. He shared his knowledge and took great pride in the training of residents and fellows. He uplifted all those who came into his circle. We are all better doctors, surgeons, educators, and humans because of his influence in our lives.
I had the great privilege of training with Roger Steinert. Words cannot fully describe what an amazing human being he was. He was a genius clinician, amazing surgeon, generous mentor, and a powerful yet humble leader. His innovations and research brought together people from all aspects of eye care, from physicians to industry. He advanced the field of ophthalmology in ways that we now take for granted. His legacy will continue to live on through all those who he taught.”
Marjan Farid, MD, associate clinical professor, department of ophthalmology, Gavin Herbert Eye Institute
“Roger was more that my mentor. He was one of my best friends. I learned so much from him—not just as a doctor, but as a person. He was able to approach almost any situation with a cool and collected demeanor. He approached obstacles with a friendly smile, always keeping things in perspective. He was a creator of possibilities. It was largely because of his dedication that we were able to construct the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute. One of the things I will miss most is his sense of humor. We shared many good times together.
Roger was a giant amongst giants in ophthalmology—but he would never, ever, say it. One of the most accomplished and humble people that I know, Roger’s research and clinical teachings are the basis for much of how clinicians all over the world practice today.
Roger: One of the greatest gifts ever given to me was to be mentored by you and to call you a friend. Your legacy will live on in those you have trained and we will strive to make you proud. I will miss you; Rest in peace.”
Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD, vice chair of clinical ophthalmology, medical director, Gavin Herbert Eye Institute
“It is a tremendous loss for ophthalmology; Roger gave us so much. I have known Roger for years, most recently he served as medical monitor for a company I am on the board of (ReVision Optics). Roger had the dream career; head of cornea at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, founder of Gavin Herbert Center, chairman of the ophthalmology department at UCI, and president of ASCRS. He had the best job in ophthalmology, in my opinion, as program director of ASCRS.
I last saw Roger in Los Angeles for ASCRS. We had a chance to talk; he could barely whisper and was in a wheelchair, but I leaned in and listened, on my knees to get closer. One thing I will always remember that he told me was, ‘We have to carry on.’ Each of us will face our end one day, some of us already are. I can’t think of a better single piece of advice than, ‘carry on.’
It’s simple, sort of ‘stiff upper lip’ British advice from a past generation, but nothing could be more true. Stuff to live by—a final gift from Roger.”
Stephen Slade, MD, Slade and Baker Vision Center, Houston
“Late yesterday, ASCRS lost Roger Steinert, MD, a longtime friend and leader of our organization. Dr. Steinert was the chair of the department of ophthalmology, Irving H. Leopold professor, University of California, and creator of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute. Previously, he was president of the medical staff and director of the corneal service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. ASCRS was fortunate to have him attend the inaugural Steinert Lecture as part of ASCRS Refractive Day held in conjunction with the ASCRS•ASOA Symposium & Congress last month in Los Angeles. A former ASCRS president and program chair, Dr. Steinert was a friend to many and beloved by all who knew him. He will be missed.”
Official statement from ASCRS
“I think all would agree that Roger's career serves as a model for the clinician-scientist and that, in his role as department chair, he was a mentor for his trainees and junior faculty.”
Peter McDonnell, MD, chief medical editor, Ophthalmology Times, director, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
“Roger was an amazing leader, teacher, clinical researcher, and surgeon. He was kind to all and had a wonderful sense of humor. Roger was devoted to his wife April and his family. Roger will truly be missed.”
Marguerite McDonald, MD, FACS
"I had the opportunity to serve as ASCRS president immediately after Roger. As a result, I had the chance to work with him and observe firsthand his remarkable organizational skillset. When he relocated to Southern California, we shared a few patients and I then got to see the results of his remarkable corneal surgery. He had all the tools and used them to the fullest."
Samuel Masket, MD, clinical professor, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
"I have known Roger for thirty years and have always held him in the highest respect for his integrity, intelligence, and innovativeness. When he decided to go academic and took the chairmanship at UCI, we became much closer as he reached out to me and I to him in his creation of the new eye center and his amazing faculty. He was a very quick study and the street was soon very much a two-way one as I was learning as much from him as he was from me. It was a delight to see him take off in a transition that many find most difficult. He created a legacy that will forever support his desire for excellence with UCI.
I also saw Roger as the ultimate communicator/educator. Yes, he was brilliant, but he had that rare ability to make complex ideas understandable and the patience to do this right. This is not common in truly brilliant people. That is why his aphasia hit me so hard with his early tumor surgery as his loss of his amazing ability to express himself just broke my heart. He will be so sadly missed as one who was extraordinary in our field and one who did so much for so many!"
Randall Olson, MD, chief executive officer, John Moran Eye Center, chair of ophthalmology, University of Utah School of Medicine
“I always considered him one of my must trusted mentors, and he wasn’t just a mentor—he was a good friend. Roger was the kind of person that elevates everybody to a higher level. Patient care he put above everything else. When Roger gave a presentation, everybody listened to it. When Roger spoke—when he was on a panel, or he was asked a question—it was always thoughtful, meaningful, and it always had impact. He was always cheerful, always willing to help, always with a hearty handshake, and always had a smile.
Very early in my career, I remember looking up to him and thinking, ‘How can someone so important in the field be so nice, accommodating, helpful, and approachable?’ He will be sorely missed.
[After his diagnosis,] he was courageous; he wanted to stay engaged and he did. Despite his incredibly debilitating illness, he wanted to continue to contribute. You could see it in his eyes that he wanted to be there."
Steven Schallhorn, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Global Ophthalmic Devices, Carl Zeiss Meditec
“Many of us lost a good friend with the passing of Roger Steinert, but ophthalmology lost a great man. His calm demeanor, straightforward guidance and creative mind leaves a legacy for us to aspire to.”
Tom Frinzi, president, surgical, Johnson & Johnson Vision
“I met Dr. Steinert over 15 years ago when I first joined the industry. He was Allergan Medical Optics’ medical monitor and remained with us as we became Advanced Medical Optics…over 7 years of dedicated support to everything we did in Surgical Ophthalmology. His gentle way of coaching change, expanded our thinking and was behind so many of the achievements we made as a company and as individuals.
Having previously spent my entire career in pharmaceuticals, I personally had never been in ophthalmology nor medical devices when we met. I found myself with responsibilities that span Strategic Planning, R&D, Medical Marketing and Business Development. Had it not been for Roger, I never would have come up to speed fast enough for the demands of our business. He provided support and encouragement, not to mention basic medical education, which I so desperately needed!
But my fondest memories of Roger are when he and April were together. They simply lit up the room with joy. Eddie and I (along with many others) joined April and Roger on the beach in Laguna, one unusually wind-swept evening, as they were married. Surrounded by family and friends, theirs was a relationship that filled us all with happiness. We meet many people in our lives but few are really memorable. Roger and April are the memorable ones. So while filled with deep sadness on Roger’s passing, I gratefully cling to the friendship of April.”
Jane Rady, vice president of business development, surgical, Johnson & Johnson Vision
“Roger Steinert was a dedicated and beloved teacher, mentor, friend, and colleague, whose seminal contributions to the field of cornea transformed the lives of millions of people around the world. We will continue to celebrate and carry on his legacy in the hundreds of trainees he has mentored over the years, and in the friends and colleagues to whom he was so devoted.”
Joan W. Miller, MD, chair of Harvard Ophthalmology and chief of ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital
“Roger made numerous contributions to the field of cornea that led to key advancements in laser-assisted corneal sculpting, cataract surgery techniques, and intraocular lens design. With his passing, we have lost a generous colleague and one of the field’s greatest contributors.”
Reza Dana, MD, MSc, MPH, the Claes H. Dohlman Professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Ophthalmology, and director of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service, Massachusetts Eye and Ear
"Life doesn't seem fair when we prematurely lose a hero, one of our very best by any standards.
The loss is even more painful when we lose a dear friend. My friendship with Roger began about four decades ago when a small group of young the surgeons (Lindstrom, Koch, Steinert, Crandall, and Masket) became the nucleus of the first Videosymposium in ophthalmology. Roger supported my courses and, in turn, I accepted whatever favor he requested including chairing part of his break-away meeting in Hawaii, co-authoring his acclaimed textbook, and flying crosscountry to deliver his Gavin Herbert lecture at the prestigious institution he built from the ground up. Every major project he undertook was inevitably successful.
Roger's scientific contributions were astounding, his leadership at OCB and ASCRS was legendary, his surgical skill was elegant, and his commitment to teaching was unparalleled. His accomplishments were a reflection of his endless energy and his burning desire to contribute to the betterment of our profession.
Best of all, Roger was a good person. A real gentleman. Brilliant yet down to earth. Insightful. Quick to laugh. Courageous. A man of integrity. Amazing work ethic. And totally devoted to his soulmate, April.
The loss of Dr. Roger Steinert is a setback to cataract and refractive surgeons worldwide. Knowing Roger Steinert was a blessing in my life and he will be remembered by his countless friends and admirers as one of ophthalmology's great treasures."
Robert Osher, MD, course director and professor of Ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati; medical director emeritus, Cincinnati Eye Institute
“He was a very down to earth, personable person, and also an inspiriring leader. I last saw him about six or seven weeks ago; he was sitting there at a gala dinner in a wheelchair and I remember I had to help him stand to his feet for an ovation. He was determined to demonstrate not only to others, but to himself, that he could still contribute to his passion. I think that shows he was a very kind man, but what a fighter.
He is the kind of person you’d want to have as your doctor. There are some that can be high and mighty, [but he had] a great presence and had great bedside manner with the patient who was scared of losing their vision. [He was a] great leader."
David Pyott, former Allergan chief executive officer
“Roger was a great friend for over twenty years. He always had quick smile and a good word for everyone. If you spoke with a cross section of people who knew him the term Mentor would always come up. Roger was a great educator, not only to those in the medical community but to many of us in the ophthalmic industry. He was a major contributor in new technology developments in the areas of corneal surgery and laser usage for ophthalmology. He was also a leader in the development of new IOL designs, advancements in phacoemulsification, and instrumentation.
Roger will be missed by all of us who call him a friend. He will always be known as the leader who helped bring the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UCI from just an idea to what will become one of the leading eye institutes in our world.”
Dan McWard, advisory board member, Gavin Herbert Eye Institute; ophthalmic industry executive
“Roger was a prince of a person, and his loss is one for our entire profession. He was a skilled clinician and surgeon, a gifted and insightful scientist, and a dedicated steward of his profession. Roger will be remembered by his many, many friends as a genuinely good man with a keen sense of humor and tremendous laugh, and possessing a wonderful blend of professional authority and personal kindness. Our hearts go out to April and his entire family.”
David W. Parke II, chief executive officer, American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
Roger was one of the great thinkers of our time, and we are so fortunate to have known him. Minds like his are rare, and we have all benefited from his. What was more special was the gentleness that resided in his spirit, and this gentle brilliance will be his legacy. Roger and I created a special bond during the passing of my father, and I will always be grateful for Roger and April's sincere support during this time, in the midst of Roger's journey. I am thankful that my dad will have Roger’s company, so they can continue to make the world a better place together.
George O. Waring IV, MD, FACS, founder and medical director Waring Vision Institute, Mt. Pleasant, SC