Monday, February 26, 2007

In memoriam: Kenneth Carl Swan (1912-2007)

The OHSU community learned on Friday of the death of longtime faculty member Dr. Kenneth C. Swan, who was the first full-time paid head of a department when he came to the Medical School in 1944 as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. Although Dr. Swan had retired as Professor Emeritus in 1978, he remained an active participant in university events. His wife, Virginia, passed away just this past December.

Dr. Swan was born in 1912 in Kansas City, MO, and moved with his family to Oregon in 1913. He was educated at the University of Oregon (B.A., 1933) and University of Oregon Medical School (M.D., 1936), then interned at the University of Wisconsin and completed a residency at University of Iowa (1937-41). With funding from the Oregon State Elks Association, Dr. Swan opened the nation's first Children's Eye Clinic here in 1949. In 1945, he invented the first synthetic artificial tears, from methylcellulose; with Dr. Paul Bailey, he developed the Ames Recording Ophthalmoscope. Dr. Swan was nationally recognized for his research on various drugs and their effects on the eye; the physiology of ocular movements and abnormalities of coordination; and the causes and prevention of blindness. He was a member of numerous societies; past Chairman, American Board of Ophthalmology; past member and chair of several NIH study sections and councils; and winner of numerous awards, including the ARVO Proctor Medal, the AOS Howe Medal, and the UOMS Alumni Association Meritorious Achievement Award.

On Friday, OHSU President and ophthalmologist Dr. Joseph Robertson described Dr. Swan as
"the heart and soul of the ophthalmology department, Casey Eye Institute. From the beginning of his long career at OHSU in 1944, he shaped the education of ophthalmologists in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest. He spent countless hours with residents, and contributed equally to patient care and research. Dr. Swan's work with his Department of Ophthalmology colleagues led to important innovations, including the first microscope for ocular surgery and the creation of new drugs and other therapies. His career was remarkable for his being the recipient of the Howe and Proctor medals, being president of ARVO, and serving on the National Advisory Council for the National Eye Institute. He will be no less remembered, however, for the unfailing courtesy and congeniality that led to lasting friendships.

Many of us knew and loved Dr. Swan and respected him as a physician. Perhaps we can best remember him by living his legacy: providing the best possible eye care for patients, pursuing knowledge and sharing it with others. Dr. Swan touched many lives, and his greatest wish was to enable others to do the same. The profession has lost an extraordinary member, and we will miss him, but his mission lives on in those he taught.
To hear Dr. Swan's story in his own words, you can listen to the oral history interview conducted with him ten years ago, in which he discusses his career and the history of ophthalmology.

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