Sir Harold Ridley 1906 - 2001 -pioneer of cataracts

Sir Harry Ridley 1906 - 2001


(Nicholas )Harold Lloyd Ridley was a surgeon at both St Thomas’ and Moorfields Eye Hospital specialising in ophthalmology. During  WW2, Ridley saw RAF casualties with eye injuries, including Squadron Leader Gordon  Mouse Cleaver of 601 Squadron. One of his students had noticed when treating RAF casualties that acrylic plastic splinters  from cockpit canopies were accepted by the eye while glass splinters were rejected and Ridley investigated further.  Ridley observed that when splinters of acrylic plastic from aircraft cockpit canopies became lodged in their eyes, this did not trigger inflammatory rejection as did glass splinters.  This led him to propose the use of artificial lenses to treat cataract. He had a lens manufactured using the same material – brand name Perspex made by ICI, and on 29 November 1949 at  ST Thomas Hospital , Ridley achieved the first implant of an intraocular lens, although it was not until 8 February 1950 that he left an artificial lens permanently in place in an eye.

Ridley pioneered this treatment in the face of prolonged strong opposition from the medical community. He worked hard to overcome complications, as at first occasional success was outweighed by serious complications, and had refined his technique by the late 1960s. With his pupil Peter Choyce he eventually achieved worldwide support for the technique. There had been widespread opposition to this idea until the 1980s and he was not knighted until 2000.

In the 1990s he underwent successful bilateral intraocular lens implantation at St Thomas’s Hospital by surgeon Mr. Michael Falcon. Thus Harold Ridley benefitted from his own invention and the operational procedure he had pioneered but what was most pleasing to him was that he had it done in the hospital where he performed the first operation.


This page was added on 11/05/2021.

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