Dr. Herve Byron
also helped poor
Dr. Herve Byron is known for pioneering a "renegade" surgical procedure that today is an indispensable element of post-cataract care, in the face of bitter criticism from the medical community. But just as meaningful, his family and colleagues say, was his devotion to helping patients who could not afford to pay, both in his Englewood office and in his travel missions around the world.
Dr. Byron died of natural causes over the weekend at his Manhattan home at age 82, said he his son David Byron of Tenafly.
Cataract patients at one time could expect a lifetime of wearing cCoke-bottle eyeglasses after suffering with cataracts, said Dr. Frank Arturi, a Cliffside Park ophthalmologist who worked with Dr. Byron at Englewood Hospital in the 1980s and '90s. Dr. Byron's refinement of the implantation of intraocular lenses helped to change all that, said Arturi.
"This was a huge improvement," he said. It was a "renegade thing to do" in ophthalmology at the time, but his work made the procedure available to other doctors and their patients. "It was a huge advance," Arturi said.
Dr. Miles Galin, a colleague, said Dr. Byron did everything with intensity.
"And he was thorough. His notes were thorough, his attendance was on time, his dress, everything about him was rigor," Galin said. "Some of us are very casual. I put on my left shoe on my right foot. Herve would never do that. He was structured."
Galin on Tuesday recalled traveling with Dr. Byron to Holland in 1967 to study under a pioneering doctor in the field, Cornelius Blinkhorst. They practiced surgeries with Blinkhorst, then returned to the U.S. to use their lessons and the lenses that Blinkhorst designed even though they were not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
"Today, of course, if you didn't use the lens you'd be chastised. But in the 1960s, you can be rest assured that was not the case," Galin said.
Galin, 80, recounted "universal condemnation" from a deeply hostile American scientific community that reacted to at least two previous surgeries by other doctors that had gone badly.
Dr. Byron, he said, was one of the pioneers who did the work to refine the implant procedure even when the government wasn't close to approving it. Now, two 2 million implant operations are performed worldwide every year, more than any other operation.
Dr. Byron committed himself to helping patients who couldn't afford medical care, both in the Englewood office he worked in for nearly 30 years, and in organizations that provided free surgery to the poor.
"In a lot of cases, he didn't charge people because he knew they couldn't afford it," recalled his son David. "He had walls of thank-you notes in his office,; literally every wall was covered with notes from patients thanking him."
In 1993, after he performed free cataract surgery for a 62-year-old Fairview woman who could barely see, Dr. Byron was quoted in The Record saying, "It's something that makes ophthalmologists feel good too. & We are not just interested in making all the money we can make. We have a mission. And part of that mission is to take patients whether they have money or not."
Through the '60s and '70s, Dr. Byron traveled around the world with other doctors to volunteer his services at what were known as "cataract camps," where hundreds of poor people went for surgery, Galin said.
"That was the most meaningful part of his career," said Dr. Byron's son Marc, of Englewood. "He wasn't doing this for fame. It was out of a commitment to helping people."
He finished high school and college a year early and at the top of his class, family and colleagues said. He was a trailblazer who yearned to share his expertise.
He "always sought out innovation" and taught younger doctors what he learned, said Jack Dodick, professor and chairman of ophthalmology at Langone Medical Center at New York University, where Dr. Byron was an adjunct professor for 15 years.
He founded the journal Ophthalmology Management, which he edited for many years, and taught ophthalmologists how to manage their practices. Dr. Renee Richards, a New York ophthalmologist, on a visit to his office, recalled that he "was able to see 30 patients in the same time that other doctors could see 15 because he streamlined the process."
An avid tennis fan, Dr. Byron was a competitive type-A personality, a workaholic who also tried to carved out time for family, his sons said. He even managed to create highly detailed baby albums for each of his five children., documenting their lives with photos and journal entries.
"He would stay up late at night putting these books together. Given the time it took, with all the other stuff he had going on, it just blows my mind," said David.
Herve Malcolm Byron was born in 1930, the son of a doctor in Queens. He graduated from Cornell University in 1951, and attended New York Medical College, graduating in 1954. His first marriage, to Roseanne Byron, ended in divorce. He remarried and lived with his wife Bryn and their daughter Pia in Englewood and Englewood Cliffs, until moving to Manhattan. Byron is survived by his wife, Bryn, and his children, Roseanne, Marc, Herve, David, and Pia.
An article in Ophthalmology Management in 2000 about depression among ophthalmologists quoted Dr. Byron as saying, "After a lot of life, you realize that time is irreplaceable. Take the time to enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy."
Published in The Record/Herald News on Dec. 19, 2012