Patricia Bath is a groundbreaking figure in ophthalmology. She is best known as the co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, whose slogan is “eyesight is a basic human right.”
For many decades, Bath has been heralded for her community-based, eyesight-for-all approach to ophthalmology. Her notable achievements include many firsts in the field, particularly that she was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent.
Her patent was for the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986. Writes blogger Stacy Brogan:
Between 1985 and 1986, Dr. Bath finished developing an invention that sealed her place in history – the Laserphaco Probe. Because her idea was more advanced than the technology available at the time, the device took nearly five years of research, trials, and development. The probe improved on the surgery that was used to remove cataracts. Cataracts are cloudy blemishes that form in the lens of a person’s eye, and they are most commonly seen in people over the age of sixty. The probe “consists of an optical laser fiber surrounded by irrigation and aspiration (suction) tubes. The laser probe can be inserted in a tiny (1 mm) incision in the eye. The laser energy vaporizers or ‘phacoblates’ the cataract and lens matter within a few minutes. The decomposed lens is extracted when liquid supplied by the irrigation line washes through and is sucked out through the aspiration tube, and a replacement lens is inserted.”
Years before that accomplishment, Bath was blazing paths and breaking new ground. At the tender age of 16, she was one of only a few students to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation.