Dr. Patricia Bath held five U.S. patents, as well as others for countries like Canada and Japan, for her invention. It is thanks to her that scalpels are no longer the best tools we have for cataract surgery. Dr. Bath’s laserphaco probe, first patented in May 1988, uses lasers to destroy cataracts in a much less invasive and more accurate way than was ever possible before.
Born in Harlem, New York on November 4th, 1942, Bath grew up loving to read, visit new places, and learn about science. When she was sixteen years old, she participated in a program at Yeshiva University put on by the National Science Foundation. While there, she came up with a mathematical equation for predicting cancer cell growth! After finishing high school in two and a half years, Bath went to Hunter College for her Bachelor’s Degree and then to Howard University for medical school. She earned her MD in 1968 and began a fellowship in ophthalmology. Noticing that Black patients were at a markedly higher risk for blindness because of a lack of access to ophthalmic care, Bath founded the discipline of Community Ophthalmology to address and correct this disparity. Among other accomplishments through the 1970s, Patricia Bath was the first African American resident at New York University, and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. In 1981, she first had the idea for the laserphaco probe which would be patented later that decade, and which would provide a safer way to remove cataracts to people around the world.
Bath’s list of contributions and accomplishments continued to grow as she dedicated her life to her work in ophthalmology. She passed away at seventy-six in May 2019.