Saturday 17 March 2018

John Lee

The son of Irish emigrants who was one of the world's top ophthalmologists and a pioneer in the medical use of Botox

JOHN Lee, who died on October 8 aged 63, was one of the world's most eminent ophthalmologists and a pioneer in the clinical use of pharmaceutical Botox (botulinum toxin).

Lee, who worked as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London from 1984, was the first person to bring Botox into Britain for clinical use. He brought the toxin in his hand luggage on a plane from the United States in 1982, following a trip to meet Alan Scott, the San Francisco ophthalmologist who first developed botulinum toxin therapy in the early Seventies to treat strabismus (crossed eyes) and blepharospasm (uncontrollable blinking).

John Lee became a leader in the field of adult strabismus, botulinum toxin therapy as well as paediatric eye conditions, and was the first European to be invited to join the Association for Research in Strabismus (also known as the 'Squint Club'). His patients ranged from senior politicians to slum-dwellers in Bangladesh.

The oldest of 11 children of first generation Irish immigrants from Connemara, John Lee was born on October 25 1946 at Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. Both his parents were teachers.

A bright child, he spent his spare time reading in the local library and came top in the country in the 11-plus, despite taking the exam a year early, winning a place at St George's College, Weybridge. As family resources were strained, he worked in a garage to pay for his school uniform. He also worked as a babysitter in order to afford a subscription to a record club, through which he developed a love of classical music.

At the age of 17, Lee won a place to read Medicine at Oxford. There, to help pay for his studies, he worked as a psychiatric nurse during vacations.

After completing his clinical training at Westminster Medical School, Lee did ophthalmology residency training at the Oxford Eye Hospital, and at Moorfields Eye Hospital from 1973 to 1979, and won a fellowship in Paediatric Ophthalmology and Neuro-ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Miami, Florida in the early Eighties.

In 1984 he was appointed to a consultant post at Moorfields Eye Hospital, where he became director of the Strabismus and Neuro-ophthalmology Service and raised money for the hospital in charitable donations from private patients. He was also honorary consultant at Great Ormond Street and the Royal London Hospital.

Internationally renowned both for his clinical and his research work, Lee was the author of 115 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He served as president of the International Strabismus Association; vice-president of the European Strabismus Association; president of the ophthalmology section of the Royal Society of Medicine; and president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

Lee was a keen cyclist and would always ride to work from his home in Camberwell. He also had a passion for fishing and a great fondness for the west of Ireland. He married, in 1971, Arabella Rose, who survives him with two sons.

Sunday Independent

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