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Saturday 19 August 2017

John Blake

Brilliant eye surgeon's car safety campaign saved the sight of many accident victims, writes Rory Egan

JOHN Blake, who died recently, was one of the most brilliant medical professionals of our time and someone who, through tireless campaigning, saved the sight of many road crash survivors. He was, for many years, Ireland's most eminent consultant ophthalmic surgeon.

His campaigning for the outlawing of toughened glass in car windscreens in Ireland in the Eighties led to a dramatic decrease in eye perforations.

John Blake, who has been described as "one of the true scholars and gentlemen of Irish medicine", was born in Cork in 1932 into a medical family. His father, a GP, died when John was 11 and the family struggled financially for some time. With money in short supply, only a scholarship could ensure his third level education and this proved to be no difficulty to the dedicated student.

Educated at Presentation Brothers College in Cork, he attained first place in Ireland in Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate and won a scholarship to UCC's medical school. He also won the Cork Corporation scholarship, the Honan scholarship and later the Ainsworth scholarship for young surgeons.

While studying in UCC, John met Eithne Power from Kiltealy in Co Wexford. Eithne was every bit a match for him as she also topped her class in medicine in the year behind him. They were in their 52nd year of a very happy marriage when John died on January 9.

John did his ophthalmology training in Nottingham Eye & Ear Hospital, studied in the Royal Eye Hospital and later worked in Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Returning to Dublin, he succeeded Professor Lavery in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin and the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital where he would later become chairman of the board. In 1971 he added St Vincent's in Donnybrook to his list of responsibilities.

While working as an eye surgeon in the UK and Ireland, he was disturbed at the number of serious eye injuries arising from sometimes minor car accidents compared with the US and Canada. Laminated glass was used in American cars whereas Europe continued to use toughened glass that shattered on impact.

John continued to research this problem and pointed out to the Irish government that the natural progression of a sudden impact virtually assured that the head of a front-seat car passenger would hit the windscreen, smash through it and end up with their eyes on, or level with the window fitting and the remaining shards of glass.

He wrote a definitive paper on the subject which was published in the British Medical Journal in 1983 and lobbied extensively to change the law. The Irish government eventually relented.

Prior to 1986, more than a hundred eye perforations from road traffic accidents were seen every year. Nowadays, with many more accidents, that figure has fallen to about three per year.

John Blake was everything you wanted in a consultant surgeon: extremely well read, professional, courteous and competent at nearly everything he turned his hand to. Privately, he was a warm and devoted family man He loved the company of others but family always took priority. It isn't any great surprise that all five Blake children should join the medical profession.

A member of Elm Park and Woodenbridge Golf Clubs and Donnybrook and Fitzwilliam Tennis Clubs, John's other passions were architecture and opera. It was the routine game of tennis that kept him fit into his later years.

He suffered Alzheimer's towards the end of his life, but was supported greatly by his family and friends.

John Blake is survived by his wife Eithne, children Alison, Richard, Patricia, Michael and Gavin and his brother Tom, as well as 14 grandchildren.

Sunday Independent

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