ABC7 Unite: Dr. Patricia Bath revolutionized cataract surgery with her device and technique

ByAlexandra Reed via WABC logo
Saturday, March 13, 2021
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Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and scientist who helped pave the way for future generations of African American women in the field.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and scientist who helped pave the way for future generations of African American women in the field.

Our eyes help us navigate the world, but as we age, cataracts can develop, which makes it difficult to see.

Thankfully, Dr. Bath saw the solution.

In 1981, she invented a device and technique using a laser that revolutionized cataract surgery.

Dr. Bath shattered the glass ceiling, the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent.

Her life began in Harlem on November 4, 1942.

The pioneer spirit was in her blood.

Her father was the first black motorman to work for the New York City subway.

"My father immigrated from Trinidad and my mother from the south and they had high expectations," Dr. Bath said.

"She was Harlem to Hunter to Howard and then back home to Harlem," said Eraka Bath, Dr. Bath's daughter.

Dr. Bath excelled in her studies and rose in a field in which African American women were rare and met with racism and sexism.

"Hater-ation, segregation, racism, that's the noise you have to ignore that and keep your eyes focused on the prize. It's just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said," she said.

Years before her laser innovation, Dr. Bath worked at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University.

She noticed an epidemic of blindness in underserved communities.

Black patients had twice the rate of blindness as white patients.

The reason, she concluded, was a lack of access to eye care.

"A lot of people were blind from cataract glaucoma and they didn't have to be, because these are preventable, treatable causes for blindness. She developed a term community ophthalmology," said Daniel LaRoche, Glaucoma Specialist.

Dr. Bath traveled the world on a mission to make eye care part of our primary health care.

"I was involved in the civil rights movement and so I saw the results of the suffering from racism with health care disparities. I was determined to make a difference. I was determined to serve my community in Harlem," Dr. Bath said.

"Her career had many firsts," Eraka Bath said. "Achieving those first and navigating and breaking barriers you make space and access for others."

Dr. Bath was a true trailblazer. She left behind an inspiring legacy when she died in 2019.

Among her many accomplishments, she pushed to bring ophthalmic surgical services to Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

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