Dr. Ronald G. Michels, co-director of the Retina Center at St. Joseph Hospital and considered by many peers as the most influential vitreoretinal surgeon in the world, died suddenly yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of cardiac complications while awaiting a heart transplant. He was 47.
One close friend, Dr. Bert M. Glaser, said Michels "saved thousands of people from around the world from blindness and changed their lives forever." He and another friend, Dr. Walter J. Stark, both remarked that many colleagues around the world called Michels simply the best in his field.
Michels, of Ruxton, was a friend as well as renowned surgeon for thousands of everyday citizens, foreign leaders and celebrities such as Sugar Ray Leonard. In 1990, he published a 1,100-page book, "Retinal Detachment," judged "the best medical book and outstanding illustrated medical book" of the year by the Association of Medical Illustrators. He won the same award 10 years earlier for his book "Vitreous Surgery."
Michels' family announced today the formation of the Ronald G. Michels Fellowship Foundation to assist people training in vitreoretinal surgery, a clinical fellowship.
The family requested that, in lieu of flowers, friends donate to the foundation in care of the Retina Center at St. Joseph Hospital, P.O. Box 9898, Baltimore 21284. One friend said Michels disliked the practice of sending flowers.
Glaser, his co-director at St. Joseph and fellow professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was notifying fellows who studied under Michels to create a board for the foundation.
Glaser and Michels began working together in 1977 at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"Ronald Michels brought the world many gifts," Glaser said. "He brought the gift of teaching and taught thousands of surgeons. . . . No single person has done more to teach vitreoretinal surgery. Ronald Michels brought the gift of clinical investigation. No one has done more to foster the development of new treatment modalities for retinal disorders. . . .
"Above all," Glaser said, "he brought the gift of healing. No physician has ever served his patients better than Ron Michels."
Stark was a Hopkins colleague since 1969 when they were ophthalmology residents together. The director of corneal service at Johns Hopkins, Stark said today, "I cannot begin to express my sadness at the loss. . . . Dr. Michels became one of the finest physicians Hopkins ever produced and a giant in the field of vitreoretinal surgery. In fact, most ophthalmologists would agree that he was the pre-eminent vitreoretinal surgeon in the world today."
A native of Detroit and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michels traveled throughout the world to perform retina operations and to lecture at medical schools. His manner for patients was especially remarkable: understanding, honest and articulate in expressing in simple terms and in reassuring, warm tones the complexities of an operation.
Michels was associated with Johns Hopkins as an intern from 1968-69, after receiving his medical degree from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in 1968. He joined Glaser at the St. Joseph center in October 1989.
Survivors include his wife, Alice Roberts Michels; a son, James Randolph Michels; a daughter, Allison Jeanine Michels, all of the Ruxton home; his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Glenn E. Michels of Henderson, N.C.; and two brothers, Dr. Dennis L. Michels of Kinston, N.C., and Dr. Gary E. Michels of Greenville, N.C.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete but tentatively were planned for Friday.