JAN 2014

EyeWorld is the official news magazine of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.

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18 EW NEWS & OPINION January 2014 Chief medical editor's corner of the world Reflecting on Mandela's legacy by David F. Chang, MD Dr. Chang: How many times have you visited South Africa and what kindled your strong attachment to this country? F or years, Spencer Thornton, MD, has been encouraging his friends to attend the biennial South African Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery Meeting. I was finally able to do this in 2011. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed attending the meeting and then touring South Africa afterward. Of course, visiting Johannesburg was a unique opportunity for us to learn more about apartheid—its origin, its human toll, and the key historical events and individuals that ultimately brought this ignominious policy to an end. During that trip, Spencer visited his longtime personal friend, South Africa's former president FW de Klerk. That is when I learned of his remarkable relationship with this heroic head of state who, with Nelson Mandela, had engineered South Africa's peaceful emergence and transition from apartheid. Of course Spencer is a dignitary in his own field and one of the most venerated pioneers in refractive surgery. A prodigious writer and lecturer, he has taught and mentored many of us. Although retired from more than 30 years of clinical private practice in Nashville, Tenn., Spencer remains very active in ophthalmology. He has organized the popular "Lifestyles" symposium at the Hawaiian Eye meeting for many years. He continues to serve as president and chief medical officer of Biosyntrx, a company specializing in nutritional supplements for ocular and general health that he cofounded 13 years ago. Spencer has always been a pillar of the ASCRS community, serving as president from 1997–1999. As a former chair, longtime judge, and one of its original architects, he has been an enduring constant behind the success of the ASCRS Film Festival. Most importantly, everyone who knows Spence would agree that he is one of the warmest and most gregarious individuals in our field. Last month, I asked Rwandan ophthalmologist John Nkurikiye, FC Ophth(SA), to describe how his country achieved lasting peace in the aftermath of tragic civil war and genocide. There are indeed similarities to how Nelson Mandela helped to heal the nation of South Africa post-apartheid. The common lesson? To achieve forgiveness on a broad societal level requires inspiring leadership, but is a necessary foundation for peace. Few American ophthalmologists know South Africa as well as Spencer Thornton does, and so when Mr. Mandela passed away last month, I decided to seek his perspective for this month's column. David F. Chang, MD, chief medical editor Dr. Thornton: I first visited South Africa in the mid 1980s, during the last days of apartheid at the invitation of the Southern African Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. So far I've visited 15 times. My visits (each about two weeks or so) included post SASCRS congress safaris and visits to their teaching centers. Other Americans joining me in the early years were Dennis Shepard, John Gilmore, John Corboy, Lynn McMahan, Jim Hays, Bob Baller, and Jerre Freeman. We were joined later by Don Sanders, Howard Fine, Bob Osher, Harold Stein, George Waring, Darrel Williams, David Chang, Maurice John, Uday Devgan, Alan Aker, and others. We looked at South Africa as an opportunity to share what we had learned standing on the shoulders of our teachers. I viewed South Africa as an opportunity to bring about positive change in ophthalmic education in a developing nation. Because of apartheid, economic sanctions were in effect in the 1980s, with embargoes against importing educational materials including medical equipment, and I, along with other Americans, smuggled in medical books, journals, and instruments for their ophthalmology residents and practitioners. I came to love South Africa. In addition to the warm hospitality and heartfelt welcome of its people, it is a land of contrasts, from ultramodern cities to nature unchanged for centuries. There are many game reserves in which the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, and buffalo) can be seen, and it is a bird watcher's paradise. Its game viewing ranks among the best in the world. Some of the world's most spectacular scenery is close by, from mountains to deserts, with eco-systems found nowhere else in the world. Thousands of American visitors to South Africa each year discover a diversity of climate, flora and fauna, and landscape impossible to discover anywhere else. Visitors leave better informed and impressed. Not only does this beautiful country startle with its contrasts, but one leaves with a broader under- Dr. Thornton with FW de Klerk at his Cape Town home in 2011 Source: Spencer Thornton, MD standing of its people and an awareness of ongoing political and social change that signals a greater future. While still a developing country by United Nations definition, South Africa is the most highly developed country on the African continent. Dr. Chang: How did your friendship with FW de Klerk, the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, come about? Dr. Thornton: Partly as a result of his interest in my educational efforts with SASCRS. Prior to becoming president, de Klerk had been a cabinet minister and minister of Home Affairs and National Education. I was introduced to President de Klerk in 1991 by a mutual friend, Hennie Meyer, MD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pretoria. FW de Klerk and I hit it off and we stayed in touch over the years and a lasting friendship developed. Dr. Chang: Did you meet Nelson Mandela? Dr. Thornton: No, and I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him personally. We were in the same room once when he and I were in President de Klerk's office, but I never had a conversation with him. Of course, I'm not in the league of those who had ready access to him as he became more important politically. Mandela joins icons like Gandhi and MLK, but has risen far above them because of his international and ageless outreach. He was a hum- ble man who knew he had a special role in history. He loved his country and gave his heart and soul to it. He loved all people—without limit. I was touched by his belief that, "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made to the lives of others." He was a positive influence on everybody he touched. Dr. Chang: Despite strong opposition, President de Klerk became the driving political force behind ending apartheid. He released Mandela from prison and lifted the ban on the African National Congress. Tell us about him. Dr. Thornton: FW de Klerk is one of the most dedicated men I have ever known. He greatly influenced Mandela and was influenced by him. Both loved South Africa with all their hearts. Though he was a leading politician, de Klerk was never in favor of apartheid, and came out strongly about the need to end it. During his whole political career he never used the term "apartheid" in a positive sense. He and Mandela became trusted friends and political colleagues. In 1990 he had Mandela released from prison and began instructing him in his anticipated role as president. Then when Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was elected president in 1994, de Klerk became his official "deputy president," something that had never happened before. As political counterparts, de Klerk and Mandela changed the course of South Africa, negotiating a new constitution and

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