For more than a millennia we have known about the devastating impact of cataract blindness, and yet, there was almost nothing we could do to help.
Harold Ridley was born in Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, the son of Nicholas Charles Ridley, also an ophthalmologist. He was educated at Charterhouse School before studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge and completed his medical training in 1930 at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons (at 25, the youngest age possible) and was appointed a consultant at Moorfields Hospital London in 1938 and St Thomas’ Hospital London in 1946.
A short film discussing the gift that Sir Harold Ridley gave to the world. Nicholas Ridley, Chairman of the Ridley Eye Foundation, and Prof. David Spalton, former Senior Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, discuss this life changing discovery and the challenges Sir Harold Ridley faced in bringing his breakthrough to the medical community.
During the Battle of Britain Ridley treated Flt Lieut ‘Mouse’ Cleaver of 601 Squadron RAF whose injuries included ophthalmic shrapnel. This led him to discover that the plastic particles of aircraft canopies that lodged in the eye did not adversely affect the body’s immune system.
Ridley led important research into onchocerciasis (River Blindness) when he was stationed in the Gold Coast. The attention he called to this disease constitutes one of Ridley’s major contributions to ophthalmology.
Discovered that the snake venom or a constituent of venom might be used as a powerful anaesthetic in some cases of ophthalmic surgery.
*Image for illustrative purposes only.
While treating over 200 prisoners of war in Rangoon and Singapore who suffered from nutritional amblyopia, Ridley developed the multivitamin therapy used today for Age Related Macular Degeneration patients.
*Image for illustrative purposes only.
Ridley designed the first artificial or, intraocular (IoL) lens in the cure of cataract blindness. He had a lens manufactured by a British optical company, Rayner Ltd.
Ridley performed the first IoL surgery on the 29th November 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. In 1952 the first IoL surgery to be performed in the United States was carried out at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
Ridley pioneered IoL surgery in the face of severe and prolonged criticism from the British Medical Establishment whose long-established maxim was: ‘always remove foreign objects from the eye’.
Ridley presented his first paper on IoLs at the Oxford Congress in England on 9 July. The reaction from his professional colleagues was hostile. Ridley’s results were also met with disdain and scepticism at a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago on 12 October 1952.
Ridley was appointed the first President of the Intraocular Implant Club and John Pike of Rayner was appointed as a founder member.
Ridley funded a 6 month information gathering project by Dr Malcolm Kerr-Muir in Nepal including the incidence of cataracts at altitude.
The Intraocular Implant Club became the International Intraocular Implant Club (IIIC) as the work of the pioneers became recognised worldwide.
Ridley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, thought to be only the second ophthalmologist so honoured.
Ridley received an honorary doctorate degree, Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL), conferred in 1989 by the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.
Ridley received the Gullstrand Medal named after the famous Swedish ophthalmic surgeon Allvar Gullstrand.
Sir Harold received the Gonin Medal named after the renowned Swiss retinal surgeon Jules Gonin.
In April Harold Ridley was inducted into the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Hall of Fame as one of the most outstanding and influential ophthalmologists of the 20th century.
The European Society of Ophthalmology president Thomas Neuhann MD presented Sir Harold Ridley with the Grand Medal of Merit in Vienna.
In February 2000, he was knighted by HM Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace “for pioneering services to Cataract Surgery”
To commemorate the first IoL implantation a plaque was installed at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Ridley died the same year, in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
The Royal Mail issued a series of commemorative postage stamps to mark “Medical Breakthroughs”. Designed by Howard Brown, the 67p stamp depicted artificial lens implant surgery pioneered by Sir Harold Ridley 1949.
The Ridley Eye Foundation begins its mission in Nepal, where due to the elevation, extreme conditions and lack of access to eye care for the remote villages, 75% of cases of preventable blindness are due to cataracts.