Story in the Agawam Advertiser News

From the Agawam Advertiser News

August 22, 2013

Agawam Public Library to host “Saving Sight” author

By Sarah Platanitis

An eye-opening AuthorTalk with ophthalmologist Dr. Andrew Lam is scheduled for Monday, September 16, at the Agawam Public Library

Lam, the author of “Saving Sight” will speak about his work in the operating room and behind the mask to reveal the stress and joy of a job that enables him to turn darkness into light and in which failures can mean blindness.

“I went to medical school and decided to become an eye surgeon because I was amazed at what ophthalmologists could do to save sight. In my opinion, sight is the most precious of our senses, and I wanted to be someone who helped to save it,” said Lam.

Lam, a partner at New England Retina Consultants and an attending surgeon at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.

In medical school, he witnessed cataracts removed in minutes and Lasik surgery that yielded instant, 20/20 glasses-free vision. He later went on to specialty training in ophthalmology and retina surgery at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, where he served as a chief resident and came up with the idea for his book.

“I began to learn about these heroes whose inventions saved the sight of millions around the world. Their stories were filled with all the elements of a Hollywood movie with courage, defeat, perseverance, and serendipity. I couldn’t believe how few people knew about them and thought that everyone should,” Lam said.

“Saving Sight” profiles the stories of ophthalmology’s greatest heroes, the men and women who saved the sight of millions suffering from cataract, myopia, retinal detachment, macular degeneration and other blinding diseases.

Lam’s hero in his field is a British doctor named Harold Ridley. Ridley invented the artificial intraocular lens, which allows patients who undergo cataract surgery to see clearly after the operation.

“Ridley got the idea for the artificial lens after examining a World War II fighter pilot who’d been shot down. The pilot had unfortunately gotten shards of his shattered canopy embedded in his eyes, but Ridley discovered that these pieces of plexi-glass were surprisingly inert and well-tolerated by the eye. This serendipitous encounter with the pilot later inspired Ridley to invent the first artificial lens, made of plexi-glass,” said Lam.

For Lam, the most poignant part of Ridley’s story was the fact that the reception to his invention was so negative that it ruined his career.

“He was ridiculed and ostracized by his peers. He’s my favorite hero because he endured terrible adversity, but ultimately triumphed, to the benefit of all of us today. The book is full of medical underdog stories like this one,” said Lam.

“Saving Sight,” published by Irie Books, is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. The book has been an Amazon bestseller.

“I didn’t think a lot of readers were likely to pick up a book about medical history alone. I needed to do something new and different to draw more readers in so I decided to blend the history with my own story as a surgeon,” said Lam.

“To take the reader behind the mask and into the operating room to see what it’s like to save sight, or face a difficult situation, or fail despite trying your best. Readers of this book will see that surgeons are human and get a glimpse at the daily stress and joy that accompanies the job.”

Even though Lam became a surgeon, his true passion has always been studying history. At Yale, he hoped of writing books that could make historical stories that deserve to be more widely known more accessible to the public.

A manuscript written before Saving Sight, a historical novel of WWII in China called “Two Sons of China,” will be released in December.

Lam was born in Philadelphia and raised in central Illinois. He now lives in Longmeadow, with his wife and four children.

“My passion for history originated with hours spent at our local library reading every non-fiction book I could find. Today, my children enjoy reading as much as I did and the Agawam Library is one of our favorite stops,” said Lam.

All proceeds from the sales of “Saving Sight” at the Agawam library event will benefit the library.

To register for this AuthorTalk event, call 789-1550 ext. 4. Or email AgawamLibraryInfoDesk@gmail.com.

To learn more about Dr. Andrew Lam, visit AndrewLamMD.com.