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Sir Harold Ridley 1906-2001

Cataract surgery is to remove the opacity from the line of sight. In ancient times cataract was believed to be caused by a solidifying of a humour known as hypochymia, or suffusio, in the space in front of the lens.

It was in early Egypt that the method was adopted to Displace the opaque material away from the Lens and would therefore allow some sight to return. This was called couching. 

The operation was also described in detail in an ancient Indian Sushruta Samhita. As with the age of Sushruta, the dates involved are very uncertain but the operation has been described in early Greek and Egyptian writings.


Harold Ridley was born in Leicestershire on 10 July 1906, as a young child he was privileged to have sat on the lap of the very old Florence Nightingale who was a good friend of his mothers. He was educated at Charterhouse School before studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1924–1927, and completed his medical training in 1930 at St Thomas' Hospital. Subsequently he worked as a surgeon at both St Thomas' Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, specialising in ophthalmology. 


On August 15, 1940, Flight Lt Gordon “Mouse” Cleaver of 601, County of London, Squadron was shot down in combat over Winchester. His Hurricane’s canopy was shattered and his eyes were filled with Perspex splinters. He had been blinded in both eyes, Sir Harold operated on him 19 times enabling him to see again, but only from one eye.

Sir Harold Ridley saw the Perspex splinters were not rejected by the body’s immune system. This led him to work with Rayners Optical Company, the manufacturers of the first Perspex intraocular lens, and on 29 November, 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital, he performed the first-ever implant of a lens.296

Although it took a long time to be acceptaed by the occular establishment, the IOL has altered the approach to cataract surgery. In our small hospital alone, hundreds of IOLs are implanted into patients each year enabling all od them to have excellent sight.

Sir Harold Ridley was deservably knighted by the Queen in 2000.




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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