ASCRS 2024 Day One Article 2 02

ASCRS @50: Leadership, Hall of Fame and More

The main stage on this, the first night of ASCRS’s 50th annual meeting featured a bit of everything for the ophthalmic crowd: a nod to heroes past and present as well as a preview of the year ahead. The main event kicked off with an introduction by program chair, Dr. Thomas Samuelson, who began the collective trip back in time with a homespun personal recollection–winning the Minnesota youth hockey title in 1974. That same year, he recounted, Nixon resigned, Ali knocked out Foreman and the Godfather Part II won Best Picture. 1974 also bore witness to the foundation of American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS). 

“At the time I didn’t know an IOL from an IOU but fortunately, our own version of The Godfather, Ken Hoffer, was up to the important matter of battling existential threats to intraocular lens implantation. It was this issue that gave birth to this organization. Ken became the first president of ASCRS, or AIOIS, as it was known in those days. Yes, it was this organization that pioneered lens implant surgery in the United States, and this organization that has made cataract surgery, one of the best operations in all of medicine. And it’s this organization that continues to improve anterior segment surgery to enhance the lives of our patients.”

ASCRS @50: Leadership, Hall of Fame and More
Program Director, Dr. Thomas Samuelson, kicking off ASCRS 2024

In with the new

With Dr. Samuelson as emcee, ASCRS honored the annual changing of the guard, thanking outgoing president, Dr. Elizabeth Yeu, for her year of stewardship as well as welcoming incoming president, Dr. Vance Thompson. 

ASCRS @50: Leadership, Hall of Fame and More
(From L-R) Dr. Thomas Samuelson, Dr. Vance Thompson and Dr. Elizabeth Yeu

Reminiscing on her tenure, Dr. Yeu had this to say: “I can’t believe that a year went by so quickly. And it is certainly the biggest highlight and biggest honor of my professional career. I’m just so thankful and honored to be a part of what I call this infinite chain–a link in that kind of leadership and mentorship that I admire so much.” 

Furthermore, Dr. Yeu added, “I am proud that ASCRS members have been queried to see the dynamic approach to the education that we provide. One of my foremost pivotal goals was that ASCRS members can palpably feel that ASCRS meets their individual needs, where they are in their professional lives, to help promote that fresh education.”

Dr. Thompson, the incoming society president, seemed humbled to be the next recipient of the leadership baton: “I grew up in South Dakota in a small town of 1200 people. My dad was a family doctor. And I thought, when I went to college, I was going to do that, but in medical school I did a rotation in ophthalmology. It really was the first time I was inspired. I mean, I heard the angels sing.”

With a little prodding, Dr. Thompson retraced the arc of his involvement with ASCRS. “When I got into practice, I knew that I needed to be a part of this organization. I always wanted to be the best for my patients. I always felt very involved using the best technology for safety and accuracy, and the best techniques, but what I learned here helped make me a better professional. The relationships with my fellow ophthalmologists, as well as the business folks in industry, and the research projects and networking that happen helped me stay abreast of what’s the latest and greatest. When I got to be a refractive editor in an ophthalmic publication, it blew me away because I love refractive surgery and it was my first step to doing something beyond membership. It really meant a lot to me, as did being the chair of the refractive surgery clinical committee, but when Terry Kim called me and said I had what the executive committee felt was the right kind of stuff for leadership, it was a moment I’ll never forget.”

When asked to define the goals of his presidency, Dr. Thompson sketched out the following vision: “I want to continue to do my role to bring value to our members. I love how there has been this trend towards younger members wanting to get involved and I want to help continue with that trend. And I also passionately want to protect this meeting.”

Summa Cum Laude

The first official duty of the incoming president was to recognize the winners of ASCRS’s most prestigious annual awards. First among these was Dr. Nir Shoham-Hazon, recipient of the 2024 ASCRS Educator Award. A life-long advocate for refractive surgery after undergoing his own LASIK procedure, Dr. Shoham-Hazon became a glaucoma surgeon. A leading mentor at ASCRS skills transfer labs, Dr. Shoman-Hazon distinguished himself by introducing MIGS procedures to the curriculum. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Shoman-Hazon called on scripture to express his appreciation for the role of teaching in his own professional development: “I would like to quote a phrase from the Talmud that says, ‘I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues and most from my students.’

ASCRS @50: Leadership, Hall of Fame and More
Dr. Susan MacDonald presented the Operation Sight Volunteer of the Year award to Dr. Andrew Kao

Next up was the Operation Sight Volunteer of the Year award, presented by Dr. Susan MacDonald. This year’s winner, Dr. Andrew Kao, has provided over 600 pro bono surgeries for underprivileged groups. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Kao opined: “To me the most meaningful thing about this award is the awareness of greetings to the vulnerable patients that Operation Sight benefits. These are often some of the most marginalized and invisible members of our community. And it’s so gratifying to be able to help them by restoring their sight.”

The 2024 Chang-Crandall Humanitarian Award, presented by Dr. David F. Chang, went to Dr. Martin Spencer for decades of service conducting “Eye Camps” and teaching clinics overseas in underserved areas like Nepal, Tibet and Guatemala. “I always had the idea that I wanted to give back working in developing countries. If I don’t operate on someone back home, someone down the block will do it. People that I operate on or people I might teach overseas, are serving people who might otherwise not get care. When I come home, people ask ‘How many surgeries did you do?’ I tell them that I measure my success by how many surgeries are being done after I leave.”

Hail to the GOAT

The showstopper of Friday’s program was undoubtedly a moving video program honoring the late Dr. Peter Choyce, inducted into the ASCRS Hall of Fame.

“This year’s Hall of Fame inductee, Peter Choyce has profoundly affected each of your lives and improved those of hundreds of millions of patients around the world. Now, none of this was inevitable. And it was all because of a single decision he made.”

At the outset of his career Dr. Choyce recognized the significance of Sir Harold Ridley’s work pioneering the concept of the artificial lens as a treatment for cataract surgery (based on the accidental discovery that the eyes of injured RAF pilots did not reject acrylic shards from their shot-out cockpits). In a true “Profiles in Courage” moment, Dr. Choyce set aside career aspirations in 1949 to defend Ridley’s experimental first IOL surgery before inquisition by Britain’s leading ophthalmic authorities and found his masters thesis rejected on that account.

Undaunted, Dr. Choyce, completed his education and worked alongside Ridley to improve both IOL technique and technology, in the process restoring sight to many a working class patient in his position at SouthEnd Hospital.

Retrospective

Dr. Choyce’s well-deserved accolades served as a natural springboard for the culminating discussion of the night: the evolution of ASCRS as a champion for lens implantation in the United States. Just as Dr. Choyce spent decades carrying the torch for IOLs abroad, the founders of ASCRS originally created their organization in response to dogmatic intransigence.

As Dr. Hoffer explained: “Here was the adage you learned from the first day in ophthalmology: If you find a foreign body in the eye, you get it out—immediately. Now what I’m telling you to do is put a foreign body in the eye. This was the mentality that had to be bridged with all of these ophthalmologists. You don’t put a foreign body in the eye. I’m not going to allow you to speak about it at our meeting. I’m not going to allow you to write an article about it and publish it in our journal. That was the world of 1974.”

Leading a panel discussion of organization luminaries including Stephen Speares, Dave Karcher, Marguerite McDonald, Richard Lindstrom, Ken Hoffer and Elizabeth Yeu, Dr. Samuelson ended the night with a thought-provoking retrospective during which the panel members recounted the battles fought on behalf of this pioneering technology in the halls of academia and Washington DC. Highlights included the California court finding that IOLs are a device, not a drug and hurdles surrounding ASCRS’s name change and embrace of refractive surgery writ large.

Editor’s Note: The 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS 2024) is being held from 5 to 8 April in Boston, Massachusetts. Reporting for this story took place during the event.

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