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One hundred years of retinal detachment surgery
  1. Philip J Polkinghorne
  1. Correspondence to Professor Philip J Polkinghorne, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand; philip{at}pjpolk.co.nz

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One hundred years ago this year a major conflict was being fought in France on the banks of the river Somme, which some historians argue was the turning point of the World War I.1 As that battle was raging some thousands of miles to the south, in the small town of Lausanne in Switzerland another turning point was occurring not in a geopolitical context but one which would bring credit to mankind; the Gonin method to repair retinal detachments (figure 1).

Figure 1

The Oxford Congress, 1930 at Keble College. Gonin is seated in the second row from the front, third from the left. This photograph has not been previously published, Gonin’s name was not notated corrctly in the caption. Mr R Keeler, Honorary Curator at the Royal College of Ophthalmologists kindly provided the photograph.

Retinal detachments had been recognised prior to the invention of the ophthalmoscope in 1851, but more often had been included in that undifferentiated clinical grouping known as secondary amaurosis; essentially an eye that has become blind without any obvious clinical signs. Equally, the pathology was not understood except to note that the retina was separated from the choroid, and commonly was referred to as choroid dropsy.2

The advent of the ophthalmoscope enabled a clinical diagnosis of retinal detachment to be made but it wasn't until 1870 that it was appreciated certain subtypes of retinal detachments existed. De Wecker described three forms of retinal detachment, based on his postmortem studies; detachments arising from what he called elevation, as in the case of a choroidal tumour, distension, as a consequence of obscure changes in the vitreous and choroid, and finally attraction which he thought secondary to a cellular vitreous acting on the retina causing it to separate from the choroid.3 His narrative is …

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