Remembering ophthalmic pioneer Dr. Robert Sinskey

June 27, 2015

Gifted surgeon, innovator, teacher, humanitarian, and life changer. These are the words used to described Robert Sinskey, MD, by some of his closest ophthalmic colleagues.

Gifted surgeon, innovator, teacher, humanitarian, and life changer. These are the words used to described Robert Sinskey, MD, by some of his closest ophthalmic colleagues.

Dr. Sinskey-an ophthalmic pioneer who played an important role in the development and acceptance of phacoemulsification-recently passed away. He served as president of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) in 1999, was inducted into the ASCRS Ophthalmology Hall of Fame in 2005, and was an ASCRS Foundation board member since its inception in 2002.

As the news of Dr. Sinskey’s death spread among the ophthalmic community, many ophthalmologists close to him paid their respects.

“Bob Sinskey was an outstanding surgeon, innovator, teacher, and humanitarian,” said Stephen A. Obstbaum, MD, past president of ASCRS (1987-1989). “He was an early proponent and practitioner of phacoemulsification and taught the technique in courses throughout the world . . .

“The Sinskey hook-an instrument he devised-is probably the most widely used instrument in cataract/ implant surgery, and his IOL design was one of the most widely used lenses worldwide,” Dr. Obstbaum continued. “But the mark of this man was his giving nature and his willingness to share his knowledge with his colleagues. In the true spirit of giving, he and his wife, Loraine, generously supported the Sinskey Eye Institute in Ethiopia and have watched it grow from its modest beginnings to one that now cares for thousands of patients each year.

“Bob was a wonderful friend and possessed a great sense of humor, but he would also let you know when there was something on his mind by mumbling some pithy comment,” he added. “We will miss Bob, but he will be remembered by the contributions he made to our profession, the ophthalmologists and fellows he taught and the friends whose lives he enriched.”

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, director, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, said while he worked in Los Angeles as a full-time academician, he had the “pleasure” of getting to know Dr. Sinskey, as he was a leader in the private practice community.

Next: Drs. Osher and Maloney remember Dr. Sinskey

 

“While he was famed for his surgical skills and success as an innovator, I particularly admired how he was generous with his time in teaching,” said Dr. McDonnell, who is also chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. “He was kind and patient in the operating room with the young residents in Los Angeles, helping them master the steps of phacoemulsification as well as exemplifying the professionalism expected of a great doctor.”

“It has been a very difficult year for the Great Ones,” recalled Robert H. Osher, MD, professor of ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati and medical director emeritus of the Cincinnati Eye Institute. “We lost George Waring, we lost Norm Jaffe, we lost Dick Kratz, and this week, Bob Sinskey passed away. 

“I had so much respect and admiration for Dr. Sinskey, a true pioneer in cataract surgery. He was an innovator, a gifted surgeon, a philanthropist, and a remarkable teacher,” continued Dr. Osher, who is also an associate medical editor on Ophthalmology Times’ Editorial Advisory Board. “In fact, it was Bob who initiated my passion for teaching when he invited me to assist him at his Santa Monica Phaco course in 1982. He also changed my entire way of thinking about IOLs. At Bascom Palmer, I had been a disciple of Dr. Jaffe, who strongly believed that the IOL should be placed into the ciliary sulcus. It was during that California trip, that Bob Sinskey and Dick Kratz converted me to become an ‘in the bag’ surgeon. 

“I learned so much from this charismatic man who was as quick to share his surgical technique, as he was to tell a joke. He made everyone around him a better surgeon and a happier person,” Dr. Osher added. “To those of us in America and abroad who were learning phaco, his teaching on a scale of 10 was an 11. He was truly loved by surgeons around the planet. The All Star Game is scheduled up be in Cincinnati next week. It seems to me that God is assembling His own All Star team with a tall, lanky pitcher on the mound.”

Robert Maloney, MD, MA (Oxon), said he owes his career to Dr. Sinskey.

“Bob Sinskey started his career at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA),” said Dr. Maloney, Maloney Vision Institute, Los Angeles. “My father-who was also at UCLA-had the office next to him. My father told me that Bob was constantly talking about a new IOL that he was designing, and that it would be better than the current designs. My father thought he seemed a bit obsessed.

Next: "Dr. Sinskey was a man of many talents"

 

“That lens, a J-loop design, became the standard design for IOLs around the world over,” continued Dr. Maloney, who is also an editorial advisory board member for Ophthalmology Times. “When I was trying to decide on my specialty in medicine, I went and spent a day watching Bob do cataract surgery. At the end of the day, I was hooked. So, in a sense, I owe my career to Bob Sinskey. He loved mentoring young people.”

“Dr. Sinskey was a pioneer, gifted teacher, and talented surgeon who made an indelible mark on ophthalmology,” recalled Uday Devgan, MD, Devgan Eye Surgery, Los Angeles. “His passion, zeal, and drive helped transform cataract surgery and improve the visual results we achieve for our patients. 

“Remarkably, he first learned phacoemulsification mid-career at the age of 47 and then went on to train thousands of surgeons who have since treated millions of patients,” added Dr. Devgan, who is also an editorial advisory board member for Ophthalmology Times. “He continued to dedicate his life to ophthalmology with the creation of the charitable Sinskey Eye Institute in Ethiopia. Dr. Sinskey was a man of many talents and facets and he drew a crowd every time he spoke. He will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.”

Dr. Sinskey was born in 1924 and received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also performed his ophthalmology residency. From 1951 to 1953, he was assigned to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, where he studied bombing victims’ eyes.

In 1955, Dr. Sinskey became the first full-time instructor and opened the eye service at UCLA. Further, he served as guest faculty and surgeon in more than 100 symposia and had more than 200 speaking enragements around the world.

Next: Donation information in honor of Dr. Sinskey

 

Dr. Sinskey has published more than 30 journal articles and textbook chapters, as well as a revised monograph on phacoemulsification. He patented his modified J-loop IOL, and invented several surgical instruments, as well as pioneered the use of low-power IOLs and the use of IOLs in infants and children with cataracts.

Dr. Sinskey served as medical director emeritus of the Southern California Lion’s Eye Institute, clinical professor of ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, and was on the staff at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

Donations to the Sinskey Eye Institute are being accepted in memory of Dr. Sinskey. To donate, visit ASCRSFoundation.org/individual-donation.