Friday, March 19, 2010

The Guy Who Helped Babies See

Dr. Arnall Patz passed away March 10. He began his pathbreaking work in the 1950s, when he discovered that the high doses of oxygen widely given to help premature infants breathe could cause a form of blindness. It is called Retinopathy Of Prematurity (ROP).

The oxygen, he found, led to overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye, damaging the retina irreparably To prove his theory, Dr. Patz had to overcome the hostility of many doctors and nurses who believed he was harming, not helping, the infants. The National Institutes of Health rejected as unscientific his initial application for a grant.

Despite a lack of training in research and grant support, Dr. Patz carried out a clinical trial to test his theory with a loan from his brother, Louis.

The theory was considered radical at the time, and Dr. Patz met strong opposition from colleagues. During the test, two well-intentioned nurses surreptitiously increased the amounts of oxygen the babies were being given, believing they were protecting their welfare. (After being lectured on the matter, the nurses became committed members of the research team, Dr. Goldberg said.)

The team found that 7 of 28 infants receiving high doses of oxygen experienced severe R.O.P., compared with none in the group receiving low doses. Their findings led to restrictions on high-dose oxygen therapy, resulting in an immediate 60 percent reduction in the number of blind children in the United States. (From the New York Times)