Hindsight, 1972: Perry Rosenthal, MD

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In 1972 NOAO’s symposium topic was Contacts, and what better faculty member to educate our members than the father of the gas-permeable contact lens, Dr. Perry Rosenthal.

Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Dr. Rosenthal earned both his BS and MD at McGill University before entering into his residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the hospital where he has remained his entire career.  At the persuasive suggestion of Professor Edwin P. Dunphy, then chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. Rosenthal founded the infirmary’s first Contact Lens Service.  Soon, he realized that the contact lenses of the time were essentially smothering the corneas because they blocked corneal access to oxygen, and co-founded Polymer Technology to develop lens plastics that breathed.  Eventually, this company was acquired by Bausch & Lomb.

In 1986, Dr. Rosenthal developed and fit the first fluid-ventilated gas-permeable scleral contact lens for patients for whom surgery was not an option, and whose corneas were too distorted to tolerate the rigid contact lenses required to restore their sight.  Scleral lenses are made to rest on the whites of the eyes, which are the toughest part.  In 1992 after developing a unique (patented) process of custom-designing these devices, he created the nonprofit Boston Foundation for Sight to make them accessible to all whom they can help—regardless of ability to pay.  In 2003 he was featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with patient Donna Pugh, who after developing keratonconus was relegated to her home until she heard about Dr. Rosenthal and his scleral lenses.  Her vision was restored to perfection within minutes of her eyes adjusting to the new lenses, and she was able to drive for the first time in 10 years later that day.

Rosenthal, who has a part-time appointment as assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at the Medical School, is the developer of the Boston Scleral Lens, which literally allows the blind to see.

Rosenthal’s lenses can’t cure all blind people, only those whose blindness is caused by certain diseases of the cornea, the clear lens that focuses light onto the retina. There are about 50,000 people in the United States affected by such diseases, possibly more. But the way Rosenthal’s lenses have transformed the lives of these people is nothing short of miraculous. — Harvard Gazette, Feb 2003

Unsurprisingly Dr. Rosenthal has been invited to give lectures about his innovations all over the world for decades now, and has contributed to numerous publications.  He currently serves at Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, as well as the founder and director of the Boston EyePain Foundation, opened earlier this year.

The mission of the nonprofit Boston EyePain Foundation is to restore the lives of patients who suffer from unrelenting, agonizing eye pain and photosensitivity that, because it is invisible to conventional eye examinations, have been typically dismissed by doctors. This unintended abandonment by the medical profession has added to their already immense burdens—including recurring and persistent thoughts of suicide.

Our goal is to validate their pain through educational initiatives, support research leading to the development of a new generation of treatments based on disorders of the eye’s powerful pain system and, at the other end of the spectrum, chronic dry eye-like symptoms. — Foundation website

Dr. Rosenthal, known as a kind, soft-spoken man who cares deeply about his patients, continues to work to improve their vision and their experience of life with regards to their vision.


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