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Saving Babies from Blindness

Lawrence Bush
June 13, 2017

Dr. Arnall Patz, who proved that oxygen therapy was causing blindness in babies born prematurely and reduced childhood blindness by about sixty percent in the United States, was born in Elberton, Georgia on this date in 1920. Patz noted that premature babies were customarily placed in incubators with increased flow of oxygen, and suspected it was causing severe retrolental fibroplasia. He proposed a clinical study to test his theory but was denied funding from the National Institutes of Health, which feared the study would kill babies by depriving them of adequate oxygen. Patz borrowed money from his family to conduct his study, which resulted in greatly reduced use of oxygen therapy and a dramatic fall-off in infantile blindness. In 1956, he and another researcher were presented with the Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award by Helen Keller. In 2004 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Patz served as president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and wrote more than 250 scientific articles and four textbooks. He died at 89.

“Helen Keller’s eyes were so sparkly.” --Arnall Patz

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.