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Charles L. Schepens

Born  1912

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Belgian-American ophthalmologist, born 1912

Biography of Charles L. Schepens

Chales L. Schepens first studied mathematics, but later turned to medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Gand in 1935, and subsequently trained in eye diseases at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, from 1935 to 1937. He then returned to Belgium to practice medicine, and in 1939 joined the medical corps of the Belgian Air Force.

His research was interrupted when the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940. After his country fell to the Germans, Schepens started working for the resistance, using his office as a “letter box”. One day he discovered that his name had started to appear too often on a list of persons suspected by the Germans of working for the underground movement. With his family and a close friend he escaped to France using forged papers.

In France he became a distinguished leader in ”le maquis”, the Resistance. With his friend he started to smuggle people to Spain. However, the Germans were on his trail once more, and he managed to escape to England, where his wife and two young children eventually joined him. After the war he resumed his career in ophthalmology at Moorfields. While here he built a binocular ophthalmoscope, an instrument that gave doctors a three dimensional view of the inside of patients' eyes for the first time.

In 1947, Schepens came to the United States as a fellow in ophthalmic research at the Howe Laboratory of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Two years later, he established and became the first director of the Retina Service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the first such service of its kind.

In 1950, Schepens established the Retina Foundation at Harvard, envisioned as a centre for intensive investigation of the retina and allied conditions. In 1974 the the centre was renamed Eye Research Institute of Retina Foundation in 1974. During these 24 years the staff expanded from 6 to approximately 200. Now named The Schepens Eye Research Institute, it is the largest independent eye research institute in the United States. The institution, located in Boston, became affiliated with the Harvard Medical School in 1991 and has a staff of about 250 persons.

His name is also associated with the Schepens International Society, founded by a group of ophthalmologists who are former fellows, trainees and associates of Charles L. Schepens

In 1999 Schepens, recognised by many as the "father of modern retinal surgery." received an award at the annual congress of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery" (ASCRS). He has described several previously unknown eye diseases and invented an operation that can partially save the sight of premature babies born before their eyes have developed normally. He has been decorated for bravery from both the French and the Belgian government.

We thank J. G. Ribot, MD, for information submitted.

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