Dr. Mary Louise Small, 100, pioneer in corneal transplants

January 08, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Dr. Mary Louise Small, a Baltimore eye surgeon for more than 50 years and a pioneer in the performance of corneal transplants, died Jan. 3 at her home in Orono, Maine.

Dr. Small, who was 100, had Alzheimer's disease.

She graduated from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1925. She performed the first corneal transplant in Maryland in the 1940s, said a former colleague, Dr. W. Richard Green of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"If not the only, she was one of the few" women in the field of ophthalmology at the time, Dr. Green recalled.

Dr. Small was born in Chicago in 1895, graduated from the University of Tennessee, then moved to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins. She was on the staff of the old Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital at Eutaw Street -- one of the oldest eye hospitals in the country -- and was its president during the 1940s.

"Mary Louise was connected for a long time with the old charity hospital," said Dr. Robert B. Welch. "She was very well thought of in the community -- one of the women pioneers of ophthalmology in this city."

Dr. Henry B. Wilson, a retired ophthalmologist, recalled assisting Dr. Small in the 1950s.

"She was a very small person -- she fit her name," he said. "She would stand on an elevated platform for cataract surgery. She also was very meticulous. We used to say she would sew up the holes that the needle made.

"She specialized in corneal transplants in the days when the operation was not very successful -- only a few people attempted it," Dr. Wilson said. "She was a good surgeon, with very high standards and very hard-working, and she was interested in teaching and advancing the science of ophthalmology."

A generalist, Dr. Small became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1933 and published several research papers, including studies of macular degeneration, the most common vision-limiting eye disease in older people, Dr. Green said.

Upon retiring in 1972 at age 77, Dr. Small was named a fellow in eye pathology at the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins.

Ten years ago, she moved to Orono to be near her niece, Eleanor Small Bruchey, whom she had raised.

"She was remarkably determined and a great believer in hard work and dedication to excellence," Mrs. Bruchey said. At a time when it was very unusual for a woman to be a surgeon, Dr. Small "just went ahead and did it," she said.

"She had very high standards for herself and everyone else," Mrs. Bruchey said. "She was always a very composed and dignified person and always very much of a lady."

Services were held in Maine on Jan. 6. In addition to Mrs. Bruchey, Dr. Small is survived by two grandnephews.

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