Doctor's dream of curing blindness leads to founding of world’s first eye bank, restoring sight to thousands.
Some miracles just happen; some like The Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration occur because people with a vision of how the world could be a better place make them happen. This pioneering agency which changed the lives of thousands and led the way for the whole field of transplantation, resulted from the brilliant partnership of an ophthalmologist with a dream and a dynamic woman with a genius for motivating people.
The dream was to create a system that would allow people to pledge their eyes at death so that others, suffering from corneal blindness, could regain their sight.
As early as 1905, doctors had discovered that corneal blindness could be cured by removing the damaged cornea — the clear, dime-sized tissue covering the eye — and replacing it with another clear human cornea. These transplants were rarely performed, however, because donor tissue was not readily available.
A young ophthalmologist, R. Townley Paton, M.D., was convinced that cornea transplantation was a viable cure that could provide thousands of patients with visual redemption.
Dr. Paton had trained with the famous Dr. William Holland Wilmer at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. He later established his own practice in New York City and became affiliated with Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital.
Following several preliminary meetings, Dr. Paton and a small group of doctors and laymen from surrounding institutions formed an organization on December 15, 1944 in a small room at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and laid the groundwork for The Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration.
They designed a plan in which eyes could be systematically obtained, preserved and redistributed to doctors who were performing cornea transplant operations.
To help implement the plan, Dr. Paton wisely solicited the help of Mrs. Aida Breckinridge, a known powerhouse for motivating people.
Mrs. Breckinridge had worked tirelessIy to establish The Wilmer Institute which opened in 1929. And after that she led other causes including President Hoover's Child Health Association.
Well-connected to society, business leaders and political figures of the time, Mrs. Breckinridge could wield the influence needed to popularize a unique idea. Plus, the thought of an agency to restore sight appealed to her because she herself suffered from glaucoma and was nearly blind.