Ophthalmology pioneer James J. Salz, MD, dies at 82

Beginning in the 1970s, James J. Salz, MD, was part of a group of ophthalmologists who first inserted intraocular lens implants during cataract surgery.

James Joseph Salz, MD, among a group of ophthalmologists in the 1970s who implanted the first IOLs during cataract surgery, died March 19. He was 82.

Salz, who lived in Santa Monica, California, served as a clinical professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC for more than 40 years.

Beginning in the 1970s, Salz was part of a group of ophthalmologists who first inserted intraocular lens implants during cataract surgery. Today, more than 28 million cataract surgery procedures are performed annually in the world.

Salz also was involved in advancing refractive surgery and was the principal investigator in 12 FDA clinical trials for the approval of lasers used in LASIK and other laser vision procedures.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times®, was on the faculty with Salz at USC.

“He was on the part-time faculty and was very much appreciated by the residents for his willingness to spend time teaching them in the OR,” McDonnell recalled. “When I was just starting out in my career, he welcomed me to Los Angeles and we spoke often about our mutual interests in anterior segment surgery and the then brand new field of keratorefractive surgery.”

McDonnell noted that Salz was friendly and personable. He loved sailing and kept a sailboat in Marina Del Rey.

“Jim and his wife, Judy, were very observant Catholics and my recollection of Jim is that in all his dealings, as a physician and as a person, he tried to conduct himself with the utmost integrity,” McDonnell added. “I never met or heard of another ophthalmologist who didn’t like and admire Jim. “

A 1965 graduate of the Duke University School of Medicine, Salz moved to Los Angeles for his internship and residency at LA County-USC Medical Center. He was a Lt. Commander in the United States Navy, serving as a staff ophthalmologist at the U.S. Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton, California.

Salz published more than 110 articles in peer-reviewed publications and also wrote 20 textbook chapters. He was the co-editor of the textbook, Refractive Corneal Surgery, and was the editor-in-chief of the seminal textbook, Corneal Laser Surgery. He made over 250 presentations at major meetings of ophthalmologists worldwide. He personally taught refractive eye surgery procedures to many hundreds of eye surgeons. He was a founder of the Journal of Refractive Surgery.

Recognized as a giant in the field of ophthalmology, Salz was a fixture at meetings and was recognized by his peers for his contributions with the highest honors and awards, including the Barraquer Award in 1994, which recognized only one physician each year for their "significant contributions to the field of refractive surgery."

Salz was selected for the USC-Doheny Eye Institute Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1998, granted only to a single physician each year.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology awarded him with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

Salz participated in Project Orbis (a flying eye hospital) in Sarajevo and Cuba and also volunteered his time at a cataract surgery camp in India. He frequently donated his time at the Liga Eye Clinic in El Forte, Mexico.

An avid sports fan, Salz was a regular attendee at USC football games and was a Duke basketball fan. He would coach, support and cheer on his children and grandchildren in their athletic endeavors. He enjoyed sailing and skiing, and was pleased when he finally got to ski for free at Mammoth after he turned 80.

Salz is survived by his wife, Judith; his children, James, Mark (Monica), Heather (Scott), Elisabeth (Kevin); his grandchildren, Emily, Riley, Brody, Matthew, Ella, Sam, Emmett, Grace, Lucy, and Hazel; his sister Audrey; a nephew, David; as well as thousands of friends, colleagues and patients.

Services will be held at St. Martin's of Tours Catholic Church at 11 am on April 2.