January 08, 2016
5 min read

Ophthalmic community mourns loss of innovator Lee T. Nordan, MD

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Lee T. Nordan, MD, a widely acclaimed pioneer in corneal transplantation and refractive surgery, died on Dec. 21, 2015, at the age of 69 after a battle with glioblastoma.

An early advocate of refractive surgery, Nordan was instrumental in bringing keratomileusis to the U.S. Keratomileusis later evolved into LASIK.

Lee T. Nordan

Nordan was trained by Colombian surgeon Jose I. Barraquer, MD, who pioneered lamellar refractive surgery.

Nordan was born on June 19, 1946. He earned a B.S. in biology at Tufts University in 1968 and obtained his MD at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He held a residency in ophthalmology at West Virginia University Hospital from 1974 to 1977 and a corneal and external disease fellowship at Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA, from 1977 to 1978. He practiced ophthalmology from 1979 to 2009.

Nordan served as a guest speaker, visiting surgeon and consultant in the U.S. and abroad. He edited a textbook of eye surgery, The Surgical Rehabilitation of Vision, and published several articles.

In 1995, Nordan supported John Bello, his Tufts roommate, in developing SoBe Beverages, which was sold to PepsiCo in 2001. Nordan and Bello later collaborated on Eye Therapies LLC, a start-up ocular pharmaceutical company that developed several products.

Nordan held five U.S. patents related to eye surgery, including a multifocal IOL.

He was named to the list of “Best Doctors in America” and was a Lee Sherman Fellowship recipient at Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Tribute to Lee T. Nordan, MD

The first time I watched Lee Nordan do surgery he did a combined Steinway myopic keratomileusis with clear lens removal by phacoemulsification. Bill Maloney, MD, did the refractive lens extraction immediately after Lee finished the myopic keratomileusis. This was 1978. The fact that Lee was a pioneer and innovator was definitely apparent. Then he took me out to eat in San Diego in his red Ferrari. Coming from Minnesota in the winter, I felt like Alice falling through the rabbit hole into wonderland. I will remember Lee Nordan, MD, for being a daring but honest and caring physician who was very fun to be with at work or play. I was blessed to have him as a friend.

Richard L. Lindstrom

Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, OSN Chief Medical Editor

Dr. Lee Nordan was an extraordinary man: brilliant, innovative, a gifted surgeon, a fierce competitor and a card-carrying truth seeker. Lee was one of the early pioneers in refractive surgery. When he was at the podium, the room would be jam-packed because he spoke from extensive experience with total integrity. Those who listened carefully would be treated to some surgical insight that was light years ahead of its time. His textbook, publications and lectures helped to validate the developing subspecialty of corneal and lens-based refractive surgery. As a truth seeker, he was relentless. Lee would never shy away from challenging the surgeon who was promoting something that he somehow knew wouldn’t work. Ambivalence was nowhere to be found in his in DNA.

Lee wasn’t only confident at the podium, he exuded confidence everywhere. Throughout his career, he “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.” A scratch golfer, he combined athleticism with creativity, which led to many frustrated opponents who left the course with thinner wallets.

Lee was also a board-certified visionary. Listening to his stream of “out-of-the-box” ideas, which included phakic multifocals and pharmacologic solutions for presbyopia, was a bit like listening to a Jedi Master.

But above all, Lee was a devoted husband and father. He adored his beloved Helen and his two sons, Taylor and Andre. The Nordan household was always teeming with activity and, of course, Lee was at the helm.

One of the humbling milestones in my own professional career was to receive the 2004 Lee Nordan Achievement Award from CRST. I was proud to receive this honor named after my dear friend. I join so many others in expressing deep admiration for Dr. Lee Nordan and in celebrating the extraordinary way he lived his remarkable life.

Robert H. Osher, MD, OSN Cataract Surgery Board Member

It seems impossible that we lost Lee Nordan, MD. Lee was invincible to me, and I just assumed he would overcome his illness just like he had done the impossible for so long. Lee was a leading pioneer, innovator and one of the most authentic and honest people I have known. Lee was family to me. He was a mentor to me. My life and the lives of so many others around the world are better, richer and more real because of him. I owe Lee Nordan so much more than I could ever repay.

I first met Lee Nordan in the 1990s. I was with Allergan Surgical, and our local rep brought me in to speak with Lee about our new multifocal IOL. Lee walked out, looked me in the eye as he shook my hand, and with his quiet confidence and immense presence, said “Hi, Lee Nordan.” Little did I know that handshake would be the start of one of the most important relationships in my life. It was the start of my real education about ophthalmology. It also had the unintended consequence of leading to the creation of the world’s leading refractive surgery company a few years later.

I spent countless hours with Lee in the operating room, at the golf course, over dinners, traveling and at his home asking him so many questions. I talked to Lee about all things ophthalmology, family and life. I don’t know why Lee was so gracious and patient with me, but he was so generous with his mind, time and heart. Lee taught me the concept and true meaning of “intellectual honesty.” He valued people who spoke about what they truly believed in, and he challenged those who did not. Lee was so unique because he had an incredible IQ, gifted hands and a confidence that led to enormous surgical experience. This allowed Lee to be an authority on clinical reality. Lee was one of the only people I have met who could figure out that the answer was not always A + B = C when it comes to the human body, but due to his actual clinical experience doing things others could not, the clinical reality dictated the answer was “K,” for example. He was a visionary. Lee knew what was possible, even when others said it was impossible. He knew what was impossible, even when others said it was possible. Lee stood for the truth. He was dependable and loyal. To earn his trust and respect was an honor.

Lee Nordan, MD, had so many things he was the “first” to do. But as his wife Helen reminded me, and I so respected about Lee, it was not about being the first or the busiest. What drove Lee was being the best. Lee generously shared his experience, skills and mind with everyone he touched to help them be their best. When Lee retired, he happily gave his total devotion, passion and commitment to his family, Helen, Taylor and Andre. His legacy will live on through them.

There will never be another Lee Nordan. He rightfully was one of a kind and a true legend.

Ron Bache, Special Advisor, Allergan