The loss of pioneering refractive-corneal surgeon Kenneth A. Greenberg, MD, left an indelible mark on many in the ophthalmic community. Dr. Greenberg passed away Jan. 31, 2016.
With many contributions to the advance of excimer and femtosecond laser refractive surgery, Dr. Greenberg was a medical consultant for VISX/Abbott Medical Optics (AMO) for more than 20 years. He was also a former Editorial Advisory Board member for Ophthalmology Times.
In addition, Dr. Greenberg specialized in refractive, corneal, and cataract surgery for more than 25 years, practicing in Danbury and Ridgefield, CT, and in Riverdale, NY.
Dr. Greenberg earned his medical degree from New York Medical College in 1984, and completed his residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, where he was Chief Resident.
He was a postdoctoral Cornea and Anterior Segment fellow at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, from 1988-1989. He was also a frequent guest faculty member at the Wilmer Eye Institute.
Many colleagues who knew Dr. Greenberg through their connection at the Wilmer Eye Institute shared their remembrances.
Jonathan Talamo, MD, of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, met Dr. Greenberg while they were training at the Wilmer Eye Institute. Dr. Talamo remembers Dr. Greenberg as someone who “would set you at ease with his dry, sometimes self-deprecating and lightly ironic, but always funny sense of humor.”
Always providing honest feedback and never too busy for his colleagues, Dr. Greenberg’s kind demeanor and passion for his work was evident to all those surrounding him.
“Ken was a true humanist who always wanted to do the right thing for his patients,” Dr. Talamo said. “He never shied away from difficult cases of patient personalities.”
Robert K. Maloney, MD, MA (Oxon), of Maloney Vision Institute, Los Angeles, was a resident while Dr. Greenberg was a fellow at the Wilmer Eye Institute.
Dr. Maloney recalls talking and laughing together for hours at the Baltimore waterfront.
“After [that], he took me under his wing and helped me survive the cornea rotation,” he said. “Every time we talked the conversation went quickly to our wives and kids, which was where his heart lay.”
Kim Pratzer, who was clinical manager/fellowship coordinator and an ophthalmic technician at Wilmer Eye Institute while Dr. Greenberg was a fellow, still remembers the impression he left on her.
“Although we are not supposed to have favorites, Ken was high on the list of all-time favorites in the 31 years I was at Wilmer,” she said. “The reason why is that Ken was always willing to share his knowledge, had a great bedside manner and never said ‘no’ when I asked him to do something.”
Dr. Greenberg was a “remarkably skilled and kind physician and colleague” who would return to the Wilmer Eye Institute every year to provide refractive surgery didactic teaching to the corneal fellows, said Albert Jun, MD, PhD, chief, Division of Cornea, Cataract, and External Eye Diseases, Wilmer Eye Institute.
“He was obviously a very dedicated teacher,” he said.
Well-known for his work as a consultant and medical monitor for VISX, which was later acquired by AMO, Dr. Greenberg played a key role in the acquisition process.
According to Russ Trenary, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of InnFocus Inc., Miami, Dr. Greenberg not only played a role in the development of the excimer laser, but also was among the first to volunteer any level of help for the management team during the acquisition of VISX.
“His expertise was crucial to us and his demeanor provided a welcome harbor at all times,” he said.
Jim Mazzo, CEO of AcuFocus, Irvine, CA, and former CEO of AMO, remembers how comforting and reassuring Dr. Greenberg was to him during the AMO/VISX transition:
“My favorite Ken story is when we bought VISX,” he recalled. “We just had a very long couple of days with the integration [when] Ken saw me sitting by myself completely wiped out.
“He came over, put his arm in my shoulder, and said: ‘Jim, we will have some fun. This is a great business.’
“That's all it took,” Mazzo said. “He was a great man and great friend.”
Dr. Greenberg was also a mentor to many physicians in the ophthalmic community. Sarah Baroody, MD, who has been in a solo private practice (Danbury, CT) since the beginning of her career, said Dr. Greenberg was the most experienced mentor she could have had. She could always approach him with a difficult scenario, whether it related to a complicated diagnosis, surgery, or a practice management issue.
“Most of the time he was simply reassuring me that indeed I already knew what to do, in his very supportive way,” Dr. Baroody said. “If I was at a loss, he always had a succinct and simple way of helping me see how to manage a problem. I'm aware that many people did not get to know him in this way, and I feel most lucky to call him my friend.”
A friend and colleague of Dr. Greenberg’s for more than 25 years, Vincent Reppucci, MD, also of Danbury, CT, recalls numerous coffee and “mental health” breaks spent together given their adjoining office spaces.
“Ken would approach and solve a situation or problem, be it ophthalmic, personal, or professional, in a very straightforward and insightful manner,” Dr. Reppucci said. “Energetic, compassionate, and professional in his clinical practice, he was loved by his patients.”
Despite his intense work-life, Dr. Greenberg would always accommodate his work schedule around important family events. When he needed to travel to Europe, he was known to fly out on a Friday and be home by Saturday night so as not to miss his children’s piano recitals, baseball games, and basketball games, Dr. Reppucci said.
“Ken was a genuine man of utmost personal integrity devoted to his family and patients,” Dr. Reppucci said. “He will be greatly missed!”
Dr. Greenberg’s memory lives on in his wife, ENT-otolaryngologist Barbara E. Safran, MD; his two children, Rachel and Daniel; his family, and the countless other lives he touched over the years.
Memorial contributions can be made to The Dr. Kenneth A. Greenberg Fund at Fight for Sight.
Dr. Greenberg left a lasting influence not only with fellow ophthalmologists, but also among many in the ophthalmic industry. Following are some of their reflections:
Remembering Dr. Ken Greenberg
“Ken Greenberg was one of the truly special people I have been honored to work with in my ophthalmic career. Ken was notable for his intelligence, hard work and superb clinical skills. However, what made him truly special was his enormous heart, his love of ophthalmology and his willingness to be helpful. He was never too busy for a phone call or a trip to my laser center to discuss our outcomes and how we could improve patient care. He was always there with a wry smile and warm greeting and I know he was like this with everyone he interacted with. Ken Greenberg was a colleague and friend who will be enormously missed.”
—Eric Donnenfeld, MD, Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island, Rockville Centre, NY
“Dr. Greenberg dedicated over 20 years of his life to support the development, education, training, and adoption of laser vision correction into ophthalmology. He worked tirelessly to ensure that his colleagues and their staff were well supported. He helped to advance the art and science of vision correction benefiting millions of people worldwide. His impact and passionate pursuit of excellence is a model for all new technologies to follow.”
-Heather Ready, Abbott, President of OWL
“I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Greenberg (Ken) as a consultant at VISX and a co-worker at Abbott Medical Optics. I witnessed not only his depth of knowledge but his amazing ability to communicate with patients and professionals about refractive surgery. Always a welcoming smile, a clap on the back and a sincere interest in those he engaged. A brilliant career and still time, travelling around the world, to make it to his son’s baseball game! May God’s love be with you Ken.”
-Mark Walsh, Director - Acquisitions/Operations for Vision Group Holdings, West Palm Beach, FL
“Dr. Ken Greenberg was a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Since June of 2000, I have had the privilege of working with Ken in the refractive surgery field for VISX, Intralase, and Abbott. Ken trained numerous surgeons across the world, helping them to achieve excellent results and open a new world of freedom, visual clarity, and activity to the lives of their patients. Over the years Ken trained many of the personnel for VISX and Abbott. He was always willing to help in answering questions and finding solutions. He was patient even when he had to provide an answer multiple times. He truly cared about delivering excellent outcomes to patients. To Ken, it wasn’t about doing it easy or quickly. He wanted surgeons to get it right, and he wanted his team to get it right. He seemed to always be available unless he was on a plane half way around the globe. I have received many compliments through the years about Ken’s assistance to our refractive surgeons. He has contributed to millions of patients having outstanding outcomes and a better way of life across the world. He was a gentleman who cared about his profession. He will be greatly missed.”
-Dennis Casey, Refractive Sales Manager, Northeast, Abbott Medical Optics
“I first met Ken when I began using the VISX laser. From the outset it was obvious that he knew the laser inside out, and he was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I worked closely with Ken and Marc Odrich as an investigator in VISX and AMO-VISX clinical trials and as an instructor in ASCRS and AAO symposia. Every interaction was a learning event for me. Ken had an amazing knowledge about excimer lasers, laser-tissue interactions, optics, wound healing…the list goes on. He spoke clearly and had a wonderful way of making complex topics interesting and accessible.
As a medical monitor, he was always available, and his oversight of clinical trials was superb. He and Marc were clearly a major reason that AMO has been a leader in excimer laser technology. On a personal level, Ken had a wonderful warmth and sense of humor, and he had the highest integrity. In a position where it would have been easy to sound “commercial,” he always told it straight—what worked or didn’t work, what he thought was right or wrong. He and Marc were always looking for the truth.
We have lost a most wonderful teacher, scientist, physician, and friend to us and our profession.”
-Douglas D. Koch, MD, Professor and Allen, Mosbacher, and Law Chair in Ophthalmology, Cullen Eye Institute, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
“The news about Dr. Greenberg has been so sad and I keep thinking about all the wonderful meetings we have had with him and how much I learned over the years. Dr. Greenberg was such an integral part of our team. He genuinely cared about our success and the technology we represented. He was a mentor, educator and brilliant ophthalmologist. One great memory of Dr. Greenberg was when we were last together he was talking about his kids. He was so proud of them and his enthusiasm for his family was tangible. I respected and admired that about him and he will be missed more than words can express.”
-Camille Joseph, Application Support Manager, Abbott Medical Optics
“I got to know Ken through the AMO Visx Physician training programme, and for me, he, together with Marc, was the programme. I frequently asked him for advice about complex cases and he was always forthcoming with sound practical advice.
A kind, gentle and humble man who will be sorely missed and who leaves a big hole in our world of academic, yet practical, laser vision correction. I'm sure I speak for all the international physicians who have benefited immensely from his training.
Our sincere condolences to his family and close friends - may he rest in peace.”
-Wayne Crewe-Brown, MD, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
“Like everyone I was shocked to learn about Ken. He was always so approachable, likeable and we shared so many ideas and times together. His passing is almost a crossing of the Rubicon where things have permanently changed. I will have a think about some amusing time, where laughter was the order of the day....”
-Julian Stevens MRCP, FRCS, FRCOphth.DO, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London
“I first met Ken with the first approvals of the VISX laser back in 1994-1995. We had the opportunity to work together training physicians on the use of this exciting new technology. As the years rolled by we continued to train physicians and the time I had with Ken only made me realize what a great teacher he was. I don't think we realize what a great teacher we have lost who has trained a large number of physicians who have treated hundreds of thousands of patients. What a great tribute to such a physician who contributed so much to the field of refractive surgery. He will truly be missed.”
-Karl Stonecipher, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“I am very saddened to hear the news about Ken. I knew him for at least 15+ years, essentially since he became one of the medical directors of VISX. Ken and Marc made a great team. Although my contact with Ken was limited to the times I saw him at the VISX trainer's meetings at AAO and ASCRS; I enjoyed the camaraderie and genuine warmth Ken always seemed to project. Ken made these trainer meetings one of the highlights for me when I attended a national meeting. Rarely have I met anyone such as Ken (in or out of medicine) that combined professionalism and the ability to communicate and simplify complex ideas with such a great sense of humor. Ken was a gem. I will miss him greatly, as will our profession.”
-Michael J. Taravella, MD, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora
“Ken’s passion for training physicians to improve the outcomes they deliver to patients was second to none. I worked with him side-by-side on the development of training for the VISX CustomVue certification process and he had an incredible dedication to make sure each physician understood the optimal pathway to maximizing outcomes and the impact of each of the steps in the process. I was also always impressed with his rapport with the physicians he was training. In this learning environment he dealt with a wide variety of personalities and expectations with the same calm demeanor he always possessed, and would always stay with the doctors until the last question was answered and they fully understood everything he was educating them on. I will always miss his calm approach to critically important topics and the amount that he cared for all the people he worked with and all of the patient lives that they dramatically improved.”
-Brad Fundingsland, President, The Fundingsland Group, San Francisco
“I will forever be indebted to Ken not only for his contributions to our field but more on a very personal level the effort that he invested in my success as a clinician and educator. I will never forget him spending a full 6 hours with me on a Saturday afternoon in May of 1998 meticulously training me to be a trainer for VISX. Certifying our Residents and Fellows at Duke now for 18 consecutive years traces back to Ken's generosity and giving nature responsible for making this possible.”
-Alan N. Carlson, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology, Vice Chairman, Departmental Development, Duke Eye Center, Durham, NC