PBS to air surgeon's story

December 15, 2009

Society will remember Charles Kelman, MD, for his many accomplishments.

Society will remember Charles Kelman, MD, for his many accomplishments. Friends and colleagues from the ophthalmology community will remember him for the unique person he was.

Both sides of the man will be showcased in "Through My Eyes: The Charlie Kelman Story," a 1-hour documentary about the ophthalmologist who developed the phacoemulsification technique. The show will premiere on public television Jan. 19 or 20, 2010 (check local listings).

In an era of outpatient cataract surgeries and booming IOL technology, it is difficult to believe that just 40 years ago cataract surgery was a complicated and costly procedure that immobilized patients in the hospital for 8 to 10 days, followed by 4 to 6 weeks of recovery at home. Even after all that, patients often were left with outcomes that were marginal at best.

Since Dr. Kelman pioneered the phacoemulsification technique, it has become the most common surgical technique in the world. Nearly 100% of the roughly 3 million cataract surgeries performed each year in the United States are completed via phacoemulsification, and nearly 10 million such procedures are performed worldwide each year.

Accomplished physician, musician

Charles D. Kelman was born May 23, 1930 in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up in Queens. He studied medicine and earned his MD degree from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. After completing an internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and serving his residency at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Kelman began his work as an ophthalmologist at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, and at his private practice in New York City.

He could be a polarizing personality in a conservative ophthalmic community. An accomplished singer, songwriter, saxophonist, pianist, and stand-up comedian, Dr. Kelman made his nightclub-style act, "The Charlie Kelman Show," required attendance at the end of week-long phacoemulsification training sessions. He promoted his work with a public relations campaign that landed him on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. He also entered into groundbreaking business partnerships with the makers of his phacoemulsification device.

Dr. Kelman received some of the most prestigious honors imaginable, including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which is bestowed by the president of the United States, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology's Laureate Award. He received the Lasker Award posthumously.