June 21, 2004 by

Charles Kelman


Categories: Artists, Medicine, Musicians, Writers/Editors

ckelman.jpgDr. Charles D. Kelman, an ophthalmic surgeon who developed an outpatient cataract operation that’s helped over 100 million people, died on June 1 of lung cancer. He was 74.

Born in New York City, Kelman earned a bachelor’s degree at Tufts University and graduated from the medical school at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He interned at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and did his residency in ophthalmology at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia before opening a private practice in New York City in 1960.

Kelman was sitting in a dentist’s chair having his teeth cleaned with an ultrasonic device when the idea for a new cataract procedure came to him. Known as phacoemulsification, the surgery involves using a vibrating, ultrasonic tip to break up the cataract and suction it out with a small needle during an outpatient operation.

Kelman introduced the technique in 1967; it is now the preferred form of cataract removal. Prior to his invention, cataract patients suffered through a painful operation and spent up to 10 days in the hospital. Neurosurgeons have also improved upon the technique in order to remove tumors from the brain and spinal cord in children.

A professor at New York Medical College, Kelman received the American Academy of Achievement Award and the National Medal of Technology. Earlier this year, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Outside of medicine, Kelman was a helicopter pilot, musician and playwright. He produced two Broadway shows, “Triumph of Love” and “Sound of Music,” and wrote the musical, “The Right Pair of Shoes,” which was scheduled to premiere at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton later this year. His autobiography, “Through My Eyes: The Story of a Surgeon Who Dared to Take on the Medical World,” was published in 1985.

26 Responses to Charles Kelman

  1. Gene Mitchell

    I remember Charlie coming to work with Randy Bellows in Chicago in the early 80’s. He stayed in surgery with us all day to help Randy learn some new techniques.
    The thing I thought was the funiest was the fact that he wore his surgery mask under his nose.
    He was a great and genuine gentleman.
    Thanks for this opportunity.
    Gene Mitchell

  2. Jeffrey L. Gurian

    Charlie was the consummate gentleman. We were introduced through The Friars Club because there aren’t many doctors who are also in show business, and I was a successful Cosmetic Dentist, who was writing comedy for lots of big stars.
    He took a liking to me and invited me to his annual holiday party that he threw for his patients. He also spent time with me several times at his office, when I came to visit, and we became friends.
    He was a great talent, a great man, and a kind and caring human being, and this is a terrible loss to all who knew him, and all those he helped.
    I’m glad to have the opportunity to post this. He will be missed.

  3. Evan Kelman

    I only knew him for 12 years,since thats how old I am. He was very supportive and a wonderful father as anyone who knew him could imagine. Always there for me. God bless his soul.

  4. Lesley

    Words cannot express the void I feel when I think that my father has departed this earth. However, I was blessed to receive my father’s unconditional love, unending support and true love of life…He is in my soul and Noah, Adam and Claire’s hearts forever (his beloved grandchildren).

  5. Anonymous

    I did not get a chance to meet Dr. Charles Kelman, however, i know that he was a great man and he did not deserve to leave us. G-d bless his soal.

  6. Joel Rosenbaum

    My mother worked for Dr. Kelman, I am sorry I never met him. My mother says he was a ver nice man and he helped many people. I wish i met him but I have only heard stories from my mother about him.

  7. Penny Weiss

    I was informed yesterday of Charlie’s passing. I had the pleasure of working with him for several years. He not only expanded my knowledge of ophthalmology ( which helped open many doors for me), he also brought me into his world of music and playwriting. I have many fond memories of him…and I will miss him.

  8. Robert Gasparri

    Charlie was one of the most remarkable individuals I ever had the pleasure of meeting. My family and myself were deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

  9. Kathryn Day

    I had the pleasure of working for Dr. Kelman from 1978 thru 1983. He was an inspiration to me and many, many, people… and was greatly admired by doctors from all over the world. I learnt so much while working in his New York office, he was a fantastic boss and all his staff were brilliant. It was an exciting time in my life. Travelling to Acapulco in 1980 with Dr. Kelman for the yearly David Kelman Foundation Meeting was a memorable experience which I still think about even today. His joy for living life to the fullest,with his music, learning, teaching, and his quest for inventing new technology and medical miracles was unparelleled He will always be in my thoughts…. God Bless you and your family Charlie
    Kathryn Day

  10. Joel Silverman

    I am currently a Senior (citizen) student at Yale auditing a course on the History of Science and Medicine. I completed an opthalmology residency at Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital in 1969 and have many personal memories of positive interactions with Dr. Kelman. I would like to gather some more material and would be grateful to obtain information about his childhood, his family, a copy of his autobiography and any recording of his jazz playing, and the development of his phacoemulsification contribution as a business success in addition to its revolution in the care and treatment of cataract patients. I think this would be of interest to the undergraduate students in the class. Thanks

  11. Andy Bunnell

    I never go to meet the man but would have loved to, I am his son’s (evan) friend. I think Doctor kelman had a great impact on Evans life in a VERY possitive way.

  12. Emilio Alvarez

    I never met Dr Kelman but he was a real inspiration to us all.
    Does anyone out there know where i could find and download a cd i once saw about Dr Kelman’s life which included interviews with him, clips of Dr Kelman playing the saxophone and also performing phakoemulsification surgery? If you can help please write.
    Emilio Alvarez

  13. Robert Lipes

    I am a retired Optician, age 87, and would like to add some comments about this remarkable person with whom I had close relations with for many years in the optical field. He always had time to help and advise people in their struggle to achieve their goals, as he did for me. I recall pleasantly the time we had fun with a couple of drinks at a bar near Manhattan Eye and Ear where I had an optical practice. He had a great sense of humor, was always gracious and ‘earthy’.
    I am still trying to forget the shock of hearing of his sudden demise. There is something deep within me that the loss of this young vibrant man has left, a sadness coming from the loss of a friend who I have the fondest memories of.

  14. Dan Berndt

    A few years have gone by since Charlie has past now, but we think of him often. I frequently look at the picture of Charlie and my wife, Katherine, seated side by side at the piano. That photograph remains a “treasure” as do the memories of the hours we spent flying together and the good times and good laughs we shared. We miss him dearly.

  15. Mayur

    I saw him in 1999 when first time I came to USA
    I read his name many times in my Jaffe’s text book as I had to give exams.I anted to see him and I was thrilled to see him in ASCRS meeting Seattle,1999,this added upto my thrill of visiting USA. He was very simple and approachable.
    Dr Mayur Parmar Surat India.

  16. Adam Koeppel

    I have many traits in common with my poppy (grandpa), Dr. Charles Kelman. I love music, am creative and have a good sense of humor. I wish I could have known him longer. I was only 8 when he died.

  17. Alan Salomon

    I just Google’d Dr. Kelman! What a mensch of a man and a doctor. My late Father, Lee Salomon was the Sr. VP of the William Morris Agency and Dr. Kelman was my Dad’s doctor. After my Dad saw his talent, my Dad booked the Doc to open up in Atlantic City for the likes of Regis Philbin and Don Rickles. I had the chance to meet him and play golf with him some 20 + years ago down in Boca Raton. Such a class act. Why does the good Lord always always take the very best and the cream of the crop to early? He will be missed. Rest in peace good Doctor…

  18. Phylis Goldberg

    January 21, 2010
    I’m stunned and saddened to read that Dr. Charles Kelman had died, and so many years ago. I met him when he was very young, in school in Philadelphia.It was in the Catskill’s hotel Grossinger’s. He was playing the piano and I walked over and sang, having studied operatic singing. We dated briefly. I remember his giving a party in the 60’s and hiring a dance teacher to teach us the twist, which I naively thought was utterly decadent having grown up a protected child in the Five Towns.He was larger than life, even then. How ironic, that now after all these years, I’ll be having cataract surgery and I have Charlie to thank for the simple operation it has become because of his inventions.

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