Claim to fame

The first person in North America to try on the soft contact lens

"Fichman! Take off your glasses. He's going to put this device on your eye."

It was 1965 and Stephen Fichman, BSc’59, MDCM’63, was an ophthalmology resident at the Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. His department was at the forefront of contact lens research and had organized an international conference on the subject. Att ending was a Czechoslovakian researcher named Dr. Otto Wichterle.

Contact lenses had been around for decades but were still uncomfortable. The researchers at Baylor were excited about Wichterle’s significant contribution to the field, a hydrophilic hydrogel soft contact lens that he and chemist Drahoslav Lim had developed six years earlier. The Baylor team was thrilled to be part of its North American debut and to see the lenses privately before they were unveiled at the conference. But who would model them?

Ah, let’s see: Fichman.

Fortunately for Fichman, he found the lenses to be very comfortable. Wichterle and Lim’s discovery took off that year. Six years later, the FDA approved the soft contact lens for sale in the United States.

As for Fichman, he went on to become a successful ophthalmologist—and one of the first Montrealers to perform refractive (laser) eye surgery. He recently inaugurated the Dr. Stephen Fichman Annual Lecture in Clinical Ophthalmology with a $100,000 donation—also a first of its kind, for McGill’s recently renamed Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.


Illustration: Daylen Conserve


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