Obituary: Arthur Rosenbaum, 69, UCLA pediatric eye surgeon who restored vision to thousands
June 30, 2010
7 min read
Internationally respected pediatric eye surgeon Dr. Arthur L. Rosenbaum died June 22 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after a long illness due to complications from cancer. In his 36 years at UCLA, he treated more than 10,000 children to correct strabismus, or eye misalignment. He was 69.
Rosenbaum had served as the chief of pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA since 1980 and as vice chair of ophthalmology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA since 1990.
His clinical practice specialized in childhood disorders of the eye and in adult strabismus. Affecting up to 4 percent of Americans, strabismus is often caused by a disruption in the brain's control of the eyes, producing double vision, headaches and dizziness. The younger the patient, the higher the risk of permanent vision loss, because the brain's developing visual system can forfeit its ability to coordinate both eyes in sync.
"Arthur was brilliant at analyzing very complicated cases of strabismus and devising innovative surgical strategies to resolve them," said colleague Dr. Sherwin Isenberg, UCLA's Laraine and David Gerber Professor of Ophthalmology and chief of ophthalmology at Harbor–UCLA Medical Center. "Colleagues around the country relied on his diagnostic expertise and consulted him on their cases."
Rosenbaum was one of the first investigators to explore the use of Botox injections to correct eye-muscle misalignment in strabismus. He and his peers later used Botox to paralyze eye nerves in facial spastic disorders. He performed more than 300 eye-muscle correction surgeries a year, pioneering many surgical techniques still applied today.
As his colleagues recall, Rosenbaum had a great passion for strabismus surgery and loved to talk about Duane's syndrome, a congenital condition in which the nerves connecting the eye muscles to the brain activate abnormally or don't form properly. The disease results in complicated patterns of strabismus that often prevent the patient from looking outwards.
"Duane's syndrome intrigued Arthur because it was relatively common, and we operated on it a lot," said Dr. Joseph Demer, UCLA's Leonard Apt Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology and chief of comprehensive ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.
"Art proposed treating the disease by swapping the muscles that move the eye up and down with those that move the eye side to side," Demer said. "The result enabled most patients to regain the ability to look toward their ear. It's an innovative approach that I still use today in the operating room."
Rosenbaum was born on Aug. 20, 1940, in St. Louis, Mo., where his father, Dr. Harry Rosenbaum, was also a well-respected ophthalmologist. His mother, Evelyn, hailed from Camden, Ark.
Rosenbaum earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan in 1962 and his medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 1966. After a one-year internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, he conducted research as a commissioned officer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., from 1967 to 1969.
He arrived at UCLA for the first time in 1972 to complete his residency in ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.
Next came specialty training in two fellowships. The first focused on pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus at the Smith–Kettlewell Institute of Visual Sciences in San Francisco under the mentorship of Dr. Arthur Jampolsky.
The second fellowship expanded his training in the diagnosis and therapy of retinoblastoma and pediatric ophthalmology under Dr. Robert Ellsworth at the Robert M. Ellsworth Ophthalmic Oncology Center in New York and Dr. Marshall Parks at Children's Hospital of Washington, D.C., now called the National Children's Medical Center.
Rosenbaum joined UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute faculty in 1973. Five years later, he met his future wife, Sandra (Dine) Burick, when he performed strabismus surgery on her son from a previous marriage.
Originally from Cincinnati, Sandra held a master's degree in child development. Rosenbaum's surgical staff members were so impressed by her son's calm in the operating room that they encouraged her to develop a program for Rosenbaum that would counsel Jules Stein Eye Institute pediatric patients and help prepare their parents for surgery. She eventually joined the center's staff to implement the program and also raised funds to pay for eye surgeries for children whose families could not afford treatment.
Sandra described her husband as a romantic man with whom she traveled to most of the countries in the world. An aficionado of theater, yoga and music, he enjoyed nothing more than showing off his elaborate home audio system to their friends by blasting DVDs of James Taylor and the Eagles.
"He loved me dearly and always said that our marriage was his No. 1 priority," she said. The couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year on May 27.
Sadly, the latter years of Rosenbaum's career were marred by repeated harassment by extremists opposed to the use of animals in research. In one June 2007 incident, extremists claimed responsibility for planting a crudely made firebomb under a car outside his home; there was evidence the device was lit but did not ignite. Extremists also made violent threats directed at Rosenbaum and staged protests in his neighborhood.
Rosenbaum refused to allow the harassment to stop him from enjoying life. An avid golfer, he hit a hole-in-one on Oct. 20, 2007, at the Brentwood Country Club, which framed the ball and scorecard for him. He humbly credited the masterful stroke to luck, not skill, yet displayed the frame in his office. It still hangs on the bookshelf across from his desk, where he could see it every day.
In 2008, Rosenbaum was named UCLA's Brindell and Milton Gottlieb Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology. The Gottliebs were close friends of the Rosenbaums. In a rarity for academia, the donors insisted that the endowed professorship be renamed in honor of Dr. Rosenbaum after his retirement or death.
"Arthur Rosenbaum was known for his personal qualities of loyalty, honesty and integrity as much as he was recognized for his academic accomplishments and intellectual achievements," said Dr. Bartly Mondino, director of the Jules Stein Eye Institute and chair of ophthalmology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Art served as my vice chairman of clinical affairs for 16 years and gave thousands of children the gift of clear vision. He will be deeply missed by his friends, colleagues and patients."
Affectionately called "Maestro" in the conference room by colleague Isenberg, Rosenbaum was an enthusiastic teacher with exceptional skill at explaining complex topics in understandable ways to ophthalmic residents and fellows. He also was revered by the grateful parents of his young patients, who often underwent a series of surgeries beginning in infancy to correct their crossed eyes.
While Rosenbaum was honored with numerous awards over the course of his career, 2006 proved a banner year for him. He was presented with both the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Marshall M. Parks Medal from the Children's Eye Foundation.
He published more than 200 articles and co-authored a major textbook on strabismus. He sat on editorial boards for four journals, including the American Medical Association's Archives of Ophthalmology. He was vice president of the International Strabismological Association and president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. He served on the latter organization's board or as an officer for nine years.
Rosenbaum's funeral took place in St. Louis on June 27. In addition to his wife, Sandra, Rosenbaum is survived by son Steven Burick; a sister, Jane Sitrin; and nieces Emily Mason and Betsy Rubenstein. His brother Robert Rosenbaum died in 1973.
The Jules Stein Eye Institute will host a public memorial service on campus in July. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Arthur L. Rosenbaum, M.D., Memorial Fund, c/o Jules Stein Eye Institute, 100 Stein Plaza, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90024.