Robert Osher, MD, treasures his Charles Kelman Award presented by Hellenic Society

May 1, 2007

Robert H. Osher, MD, has received numerous accolades over his lifetime as an innovative surgeon, video producer, athletic coach, professor, and medical director of a large practice. But, he said, the Charles Kelman Award he received recently from the Hellenic Society of Intraocular Implant & Refractive Surgery is among his most treasured.

"Dr. Kelman was not only an inspiration to me, but a very close friend, and he gave me moral support many times over my career when some of my ideas were not accepted and occasionally harshly criticized," Dr. Osher said. "It was not uncommon for Dr. Kelman to come up to me after a presentation, put his arm around my shoulder, and say, 'Keep your chin up, kid. New ideas are never easily accepted.' "

Dr. Osher, professor of ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and medical director emeritus, Cincinnati Eye Institute, received the award during the Hellenic Society's 21st meeting, held in conjunction with the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery meeting in Athens, Greece, in February.

During his lifetime, Dr. Kelman often faced stinging criticism for his cutting-edge ideas, many of which led to major ophthalmic advancements. A sizable camp, however, appreciated his novel approaches.

"We listened attentively to every word that came out of his mouth," Dr. Osher said. "We were the pupils, and he was the master."

Ironically, Dr. Osher came to befriend his hero in the early 1980s after daring to challenge publicly three of his five contraindications to phacoemulsification: emulsifying mature cataracts, loose lenses, and when the pupil is small. Listeners called Dr. Osher "negligent" and "dangerous;" however, it only amused Dr. Kelman, who described Dr. Osher as a "young Kelman" for challenging the status quo and occasionally overreacting to criticism.

That out-of-the-box thinking, however, led to some significant innovations. For example, Dr. Osher was the first to perform refractive cataract surgery, reducing pre-existing astigmatism with relaxing incisions at the time of surgery. He performed the first hyperopic clear lensectomy. He modified the machine to allow surgeons to control parameters and introduced slow-motion phaco. Dr. Osher taught colleagues about capsular tension rings, a high-control viscoadaptive (Healon 5, Advanced Medial Optics), prosthetic irides, micro-coaxial phaco, and many other techniques, such as implanting a posterior-chamber IOL into a torn capsular bag.

In addition to his surgical innovations, he pioneered a "video journal," in which surgeons all over the world contribute videos of their work, which are edited into four editions each year. For 23 years, Dr. Osher has compiled and distributed these videos and many others to ophthalmologists worldwide to teach new techniques and approaches to complicated cases. Today, the journal is viewed in nearly 150 countries.

He also helped build a small practice established by his father into one of the largest private practices in the country, with 45 ophthalmologists, many of whom are leading specialists in their areas. He served as medical director for more than 20 years.