Arnall Patz, director emeritus of the Johns Hopkins
Institute and winner of a Lasker Award for his
discovery of a treatment for a disease that once was the
most common cause of childhood blindness, was one of 12
recipients given this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom
by President George W. Bush during a special ceremony held
June 23 at the White House.
Patz was honored for his lifetime contributions to
ophthalmology, which include development of one of the
first argon lasers used in the treatment of diabetic
retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, and the
elimination of a leading cause of blindness in premature
"We are enormously proud to have the extraordinary
contributions of one of our own so magnificently
recognized," said Edward D. Miller, dean of faculty of the
School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
"Patz's influence in ophthalmology as a clinician,
researcher and mentor is powerful and long-lasting. He has
graced the school and hospital for almost 50 years, and we
are so pleased for him."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's
highest civilian honor. First established by President
Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their service
during World War II, it was reinstated by President Kennedy
in 1963 to honor individuals who have made "an especially
meritorious contribution to the security or national
interests of the United States or to world peace or to
cultural or other significant public or private
"I am delighted to receive this medal," Patz said.
"And I am extremely pleased that this award will bring
focus and attention to the value and importance of work in
preserving the sight of patients and to ophthalmology's
important role in medicine."
Early in his medical career, Patz was credited with
discovering the cause of and treatment for retrolental
fibroplasia, an abnormal overgrowth of blood vessels in the
eye causing irreparable damage to the retina in premature
infants. Known today as retinopathy of prematurity in
newborns, during the 1950s this condition was the most
common cause of childhood blindness. The condition was
caused by giving high levels of oxygen to oxygen-needy
Despite fierce resistance from the medical
establishment, Patz scientifically proved the link between
exposure to high levels of oxygen and blindness and
effectively ended the problem by suggesting ways to shield
the infants' eyes during oxygen therapy. The vision of
countless infants was saved. For his work, he was awarded
in 1956 the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award, sometimes
dubbed the "American Nobel." The Lasker Award recognizes
scientists, physicians and public servants whose
accomplishments have made major advances in the
understanding, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure of
many of the great cripplers and killers of our century.
"Dr. Patz will always be considered, by his peers and
those throughout our profession, as a man who contributed
so critically to preserving sight," said Peter J.
McDonnell, current director of the Wilmer Eye Institute.
"As a member of the faculty of Wilmer for the last 50
years, his inspiration and leadership to fellow
professionals, along with his guidance and encouragement to
all of our medical students, make us fortunate to know
Following his work on ROP, Patz studied ways to stop
the leaking and overgrowth of blood vessels in the retina,
a condition associated with many diseases of the eye.
Recognizing the potential of lasers to seal the leaking and
stop the overgrowth of these blood vessels, Patz developed
the argon laser with the help of colleagues at Johns
Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory. Their work paved the
way for treatment of many degenerative eye conditions,
including diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular
degeneration and retinal tearing.
Patz joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1970 and
founded its Retinal Vascular Center. From 1979 to 1989, he
served as the fourth director of the Wilmer Eye Institute,
continuing to build its reputation as the world's foremost
eye care and research center.
Morton F. Goldberg, who followed Patz as director of
the Wilmer Eye Institute, said he feels this award
exemplifies Patz's work and contributions to the field of
ophthalmology. "He is an exceptional colleague and friend
who I consider one of the greatest ophthalmologists and
greatest human beings in modern medicine," Goldberg said.
"It was his passion that made him a great researcher,
clinician and most importantly a mentor to all of us who
learned and worked with him."
In 1994, Patz was awarded the first Helen Keller Prize
for Vision Research and has received many other
distinguished ophthalmology awards, including the
Friedenwald Research Award in 1980, the inaugural Isaac C.
Michaelson Medal in 1986 and the 2001 Pisart International
Vision Award from the Lighthouse International.
Patz, a native of Elberton, Ga., graduated from the
Emory University School of Medicine in 1945. At age 78, he
earned a master of liberal arts degree from Johns Hopkins.
In 2001, in recognition of his contributions to scientific
endeavor and to the Johns Hopkins community, the university
conferred upon him an honorary doctorate.
Other Johns Hopkins faculty who have received the
Presidential Medal of Freedom are pediatric cardiologist
Helen Taussig (1964) and public health expert D.A.