Dr. 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.