ABC7 Unite: Dr. Patricia Bath revolutionized cataract surgery

Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and scientist who helped pave the way for future generations of African American women in the field.

Video Transcript

- Now we celebrate Black History Month by celebrating another Tri-State trailblazer. Tonight we honor a woman, from Harlem, behind a revolutionary treatment that restored vision to the sightless. Here's Eyewitness News anchor Shirleen Allicot.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and scientist who helped pave the way for future generations of African American women in the field.

[HORN HONKS]

Our eyes help us navigate the world, but as we age, cataracts can develop, which make it difficult to see. Thankfully, Dr. Patricia Bath saw the solution.

In 1981, she invented a device and technique using a laser that revolutionized cataract surgery.

ERAKA BATH: Being the first person to demonstrate that you can use lasers in this way, for cataracts, that hadn't been done.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Dr. Bath shattered the glass ceiling, the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent.

Her life began in Harlem on November 4, 1942. The pioneer spirit was in her blood. Her father was the first Black motorman to work for the New York City subway.

Dr. Bath excelled in her studies and rose in a field in which African American women were rare and met with racism and sexism.

PATRICIA BATH: Hater-ation, segregation, racism, that's the noise. And you have to ignore that, keep your eyes focused on the prize. And the prize is just like Martin Luther King said.

Cataract surgery has advanced.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Years before her laser innovation, Dr. Bath worked at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University. She noticed an epidemic of blindness in underserved communities.

DANIEL LAROCHE: A lot of people were blind from cataracts, glaucoma where they didn't have to be blind from this, because these are preventable, treatable causes of blindness. So she developed the term community ophthalmology.

ERAKA BATH: Her career had many firsts. Achieving those first and navigating and breaking those barriers, you create space and access for others.

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Dr. Bath, a true trailblazer. She left behind an inspiring legacy when she died in 2019.

PATRICIA BATH: I want to pass the torch to young girls and have them do STEM, and obviously the residents choose ophthalmology.

[INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC]

SHIRLEEN ALLICOT: Among her many accomplishments, she pushed to bring ophthalmic surgical services to Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.