Sir Harold Ridley pioneered throughout his life to improve the sight of his patients. He believed that the gift of sight should be available to all, and not conditional on where they lived in the world.
Sir Harold Ridley attended Charterhouse School in Surrey in 1920 and then went on to Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating in 1927. He completed his medical training at St Thomas’ Hospital, London in 1930. At just 25 years of age, the youngest age possible, Sir Harold became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and shortly after was appointed Consultant Surgeon at Moorfields Hospital in London.
At the outbreak of World War II, Sir Harold was transferred to Emergency Medical Services in Guildford in order to treat injured servicemen, particularly those in the RAF who were suffering eye disorders.
On August 15, 1940, Flight Lt Gordon “Mouse” Cleaver of 601, County of London, Squadron was shot down in combat over Winchester. His Hurricane’s canopy was shattered and his eyes were filled with Perspex splinters. He had been blinded in both eyes, Sir Harold operated on him 19 times enabling him to see again, but only from one eye.
In 2010, UK Royal Mail issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honour. It was one of a set of six marking medical breakthroughs.
A commemorative plaque was unveiled at his birthplace in February 2012 by his son, Nicholas Ridley, Chairman and Trustee to the Ridley Eye Foundation.
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Sir Harold Ridley saw the Perspex splinters were not rejected by the body’s immune system. This led him to work with Rayners Optical Company, the manufacturers of the first Perspex intraocular lens, and on 29 November, 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital, he performed the first-ever implant of a lens.
Sir Harold’s work was revolutionary, but for years was strongly opposed by many in the ophthalmic establishment. In 1986 he finally gained recognition by being elected as a Fellow of The Royal Society.
Over 50 years after his first operation, in February 2000, Sir Harold was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen. He died at his Wiltshire home a year later.