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Ophthalmology remembers friend, LASIK pioneer Dr. George Waring III


George O. Waring III, MD, FACS, FRCOphth, was more than an ophthalmic surgeon and innovator. He was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, and an inspiration to those who knew him.

Dr. Waring IIIGeorge O. Waring III, MD, FACS, FRCOphth, was more than an ophthalmic surgeon and innovator. He was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, and an inspiration to those who knew him.

Dr. Waring, who performed the first LASIK procedure in the United States in Atlanta, died Jan. 27 following a stroke. He was 73. He most recently served as professor emeritus of ophthalmology, Emory University, Atlanta.

As the news of Dr. Waring’s death spread among the ophthalmic community, many ophthalmologists paid their respects by recalling fond memories.

“George Waring was the first ‘academic’ keratorefractive surgeon, and the Prospective Evaluation of Radial Keratotomy (PERK) Study he spearheaded answered many questions about the safety and efficacy of that procedure, while also setting the standard for clinical trials of refractive surgical procedures to follow,” said Peter J. McDonnell, MD, director, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

“I was delighted to work closely with George and get to know him well when I served as principal investigator for the 10 year follow-up study of the PERK patients, whose data showed that hyperopia shift and diurnal fluctuation were long-term issues with the surgery,” continued Dr. McDonnell, who is also chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.


Read Dr. Waring's work: Patient satisfaction with refractive error correction important

Dr. McDonnell and Dr. Waring both worked together with H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD, to form the American Academy of Ophthalmology's first special interest group and subspecialty day meeting to address the Academy members' desire for information about the merging field of excimer laser surgery.

“The universe of ophthalmology has lost one of its brightest Stars,” said Robert H. Osher, MD, professor of ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati and medical director emeritus of the Cincinnati Eye Institute. “George Waring III was larger than the entire galaxy. He was brilliant, energetic, and inspirational. On this globe, there was no mountain too high, no river too dangerous, and no topic too complex for George to master.


“He was a kind, loyal, man of integrity, and a true Force of Nature,” added Dr. Osher, who is also an associate medical editor on Ophthalmology Times’ Editorial Advisory Board. “When a star burns out, its light continues to be seen for some time. George’s light will illuminate surgeons on every corner of this planet for years to come.”

“I enjoyed George for his ability to cram 12 hours of work and 12 hours of adventure into an 18-hour day,” recalled Robert K. Maloney, MD, MA (Oxon), Maloney Vision Institute, Los Angeles, and associate medical editor on Ophthalmology Times’ Editorial Advisory Board. “I respected him for his fearlessness in speaking the truth, even when the truth offended vested interests. I loved George for his emotional courage, (and) his ability to connect to others deeply, honestly and without pretension.”

“I had the privilege of meeting George in 1982 during my second year of medical school,” said Ernest Kornmehl, MD, FACS, Harvard and Tufts Universities, Boston, and associate medical editor on Ophthalmology Times’ Editorial Advisory Board. “He was always kind, a tremendous teacher, and relished organizing disparate ideas.”

“George was one of the best teachers of his time,” said William Culbertson, MD, holder of the Lou Higgins Chair in Ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami. “He made sense of complicated topics in a delightful and memorable way.”

“George made refractive surgery into an academic subspecialty,” added Peter Hersh, MD, FACS, professor of ophthalmology, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, and director, Cornea and Laser Eye Institute, Hersh Vision Group, Teaneck, NJ.

Dr. Waring was born in Buffalo, NY, in 1941, and he earned his medical degree from Baylor Medical College, Houston. His ophthalmology training included a residency, followed by a Heed Fellowship in corneal disease and surgery, at the Wills Eye Hospital, Philadelphia.

Dr. Waring was board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology and was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, of the Royal College of Ophthalmology, and of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.


He began his academic career at the University of California, Davis, in 1974, where he established the first eye bank in Northern California.

In 1992, Dr. Waring received a National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Scholars Award to conduct research in laser corneal surgery at Hotel Dieu Hospital, Paris, France. From 1993-1995, he served as chairman of the ophthalmology department and director of research at the Al-Magrabi Eye Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he helped develop the LASIK procedure.

He was also a founder and managing director of the privately owned Vision Correction Group from 1994-2004, where he performed more than 10,000 LASIK and other refractive procedures.

His research included National Institutes of Health grants to study radial keratotomy and excimer laser corneal surgery. His data eventually led to the first FDA-approved clinical excimer laser vision correction surgery in the United States.

Dr. Waring also received the first physician-sponsored investigational device exemption from the FDA due to his role as principal investigator of LASIK at Emory.

He served as editor-in-chief of The Journal of Refractive Surgery from 1989-2010, and published more than 500 articles and two textbooks.

He also was a member of the Ophthalmology Times Editorial Advisory Board from 1995-2013, serving as the editor of OT’s Focus on Refractive Surgery column. Dr. Waring was recognized for his achievements in the refractive surgery subspecialty in 1996 as one of Ophthalmology Times’ Best U.S. Ophthalmologists.

He had received three American Academy of Ophthalmology Honor Awards and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Refractive Surgery. Dr. Waring also spoke at ophthalmic conferences in more than 60 countries and made appearances on Nightline, the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour, ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, and CNN.


“I first met George in 1985 when I was a medical student attending my first ARVO meeting,” said Jonathan Talamo, MD, assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, Boston. “I was immediately struck and inspired by his boundless energy and enthusiasm for ophthalmology and life in general. George had a unique ability to combine curiosity for new ideas and academic rigor while rarely missing an opportunity to experience adventures that the world beyond work had to offer.”

Above all else, Dr. Waring’s friendship will be truly missed, said Jack Dodick, MD, chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, NYU School of Medicine, New York, and a former president of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

“George was a giant in his field, but moreover, a true-and-trusted friend and confidant,” said Ophthalmology Times’ chief medical editor-emeritus. “Our friendship spanned four decades. Each time he was passing through New York-which was frequently-he would always call ahead to arrange some private time, usually a dinner where we would talk about many things, usually life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I will miss him dearly.”

“George was a very positive and optimistic man, (and) we can all learn from his approach to the world,” said Samuel Masket, MD, clinical professor, Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California-Los Angeles. “He touched ophthalmology in so many ways. Though his world was cornea and mine cataract, we crossed paths often and had mutual respect.

“Clearly we have lost a major contributor to our field,” Dr. Masket continued. “George can rest well knowing that he made a difference.”

A memorial service for Dr. Waring is being planned for Feb. 21 (his actual birthday) in Atlanta. Time and location will be announced once details are finalized.


An ophthalmic foundation, the Waring Vision Foundation, is being established in his honor. In lieu of flowers or to make a donation, please check the Caring Bridge site as details are finalized.

Dr. Waring is survived by his four children: George O. IV, John Timothy, Joy Ailene, and Matthew George.

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