“When we think of Jules Gonin, we think of a titan.” —D. Jackson Coleman, MD
When Swiss-born Jules Gonin took on the task of updating a chapter on diseases of the retina and optic nerve for the French Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology in 1900 he began his life’s work and an uphill battle that would eventually earn him the title “father of retinal surgery.” He became interested in retinal detachment, which was thought to be an untreatable cause of blindness. He spent years carefully studying the cause and pathology of this condition and came to believe that spontaneous retinal detachment was always associated with a tear. He developed the method of reattachment by ignipuncture and thermocautery, though for many years his work was heavily criticized. His ideas finally gained widespread acceptance at an international meeting in 1929 when he and other ophthalmologists reported similar successes. From then until he died from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 65, he was very busy performing surgeries. A truly good man, he divided his modest wealth equally among his three children and the blind people he had not been able to cure in Lausanne. To preserve his memory, the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Ophthalmological Society founded the Gonin Medal in 1937, which is awarded every 4 years to a distinguished ophthalmologist.