David Paton was born in Baltimore, Maryland, August 16, 1930. He spent much of his childhood in New York City where his late father was a prominent ophthalmologist and founder of the world’s first eye bank (1944).
His education included the Hill School in Pennsylvania and Princeton University in New Jersey, graduating from both cum laude and a class officer. He was then graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1956. The subsequent year was spent in a straight medical internship at New York Hospital, Cornell University Medical College. Paton then worked two years in ophthalmology research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, under the direction of the late Dr. Ludwig von Sallmann.
His residency in ophthalmology was at the Wilmer Institute, The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore under the leadership of Professor A. Edward Maumenee. Dr. Paton was selected for the full five year residency training period with the fourth year being spent at the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, Jordan under the management of the late Sir Stewart Duke-Elder. Paton established one of the earliest eye banks in the Middle East; King Hussein of Jordan decorated him for his work.
After completion of residency training at Hopkins in 1964, Paton joined the full time faculty of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as Assistant Professor and subsequently was appointed Associate Professor of Ophthalmology. He remained in Baltimore until January 1971. His interests were in ophthalmic surgery techniques and he co-founded a laboratory devoted to that purpose while also working extensively in developing the Maryland Eye Bank. Anterior segment surgery of the eye became his favored clinical activity. In 1966 he proposed a community glaucoma checking station, an early sign of his later concerns with health care systems.
In January 1971 Paton was recruited by Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to assume the chairmanship of the Department of Ophthalmology. Aside from other professional activities, clinical practice (particularly cataract and corneal surgery) has been his primary activity and over the years while in Houston he was listed by Town and Country in The Best Doctors in the United States and again in a book by that title by J. Pekkanen (Seaview Press, 1979). Early in the departmental chairmanship he proposed and later co-designed a Mobile Eye Care Unit, a “bus” for delivering on-board eye care at five health care clinics in Houston’s inner city.
Paton began a long planning phase for the development of an eye institute in Houston which eventually became part of the Neurosensory Center that is co-owned by Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital. The Cullen Eye Institute is now one of the foremost research and clinical centers of academic ophthalmology in the United States. Much of the fund-raising and the faculty recruitment were the responsibility of the department chairman who later became the first Director of the Cullen Eye Institute. With a sense of accomplishment and an enthusiasm for new professional endeavors, Paton asked to be replaced as Director of the Institute in 1981.
Paton was increasingly active in the leadership of national ophthalmology organizations. From 1975 through 1982 he served as director of the American Board of Ophthalmology and became its Chairman. Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s he was involved in synthesizing continuing education programs for ophthalmologists, particularly as a member of the Continuing Education Committee of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He was Secretary of Continuing Education for five years and later First Vice President of the Academy in 1982. While on the Academy’s Board he was an originator of the National Eye Care Project to bring improved eye care to the nation’s elderly citizens at no cost when appropriate.
Paton has published over 150 original scientific papers on a broad range of topics and has authored, co-authored or edited a number of textbooks in his specialty. He has given numerous named lectureships in the United States and abroad. Paton’s first major trip abroad was to France as a student and tutor in Claix near Grenoble. Later, he worked during medical school with general medical responsibilities on a small island north of Newfoundland and has served on various surveys of eye disease in countries such as Ethiopia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Always with an interest in international ophthalmology and the problems of eye care in both developed and developing nations, Paton traveled extensively and repeatedly in teaching capacities throughout Central and South America, North Africa, eastern and western Europe, the Far East, etc. These international experiences contributed to the genesis of Project ORBIS.
ORBIS began conceptually in 1970 and as an established program has been described in various publications. Project ORBIS is a freestanding not-for-profit organization with headquarters in New York City. The Project was originally embodied in a refurbished DC-8 aircraft that was deployed internationally for on-board teaching of modern techniques of eye surgery. With a voluntary, sequential faculty of now literally hundreds of leading ophthalmologists from many countries, the aircraft has gone to over 40 host countries by 1987. Paton received a second decoration from King Hussein – this time for his work with Project ORBIS in 1983. He has received a Doctor of Science honorary degree from the University of Bridgeport (1984) and from his alma mater, Princeton University (1985).
In 1982 through 1984, Dr. Paton was the first Medical Director of the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital (KKESH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.. He was the principal recruiter of the outstanding professional staff that was attracted to that hospital, and he as an originator of the plan to make KKESH a University affiliated teaching hospital. KKESH is considered the world’s largest modern eye hospital with 250 beds, twelve eye operating rooms and a staff of physicians principally recruited from the West. The hospital, an important center now internationally recognized, is the first hospital with an audio-visual system for ophthalmic teaching that is comparable to the one engineered for the ORBIS aircraft. It is unique as a center of virtually uncompromised ophthalmic excellence in a country still early in its own industrialization process.
The challenges of rendering optimal and affordable health care (specifically eye care) became Paton’s major interest. From his surgical research laboratory at Johns Hopkins and a similar laboratory at Cullen Eye Institute; from ORBIS, as a program initially void of ophthalmological support to a position of world acclaim for outpatient eye surgery; and from his teaching and leadership roles in organized ophthalmology, Paton derived much conviction as to how beneficial (even radical) changes in health care systems could benefit the public, at home and abroad.
As Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology, Paton served on the faculty of Cornell University Medical Center in Manhattan. In that capacity he started an International Eye Care Referral Center to make American ophthalmology conveniently available to foreign visitors. Concurrently, in 1986 Paton’s principal commitment was as Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology of the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens (CMC), a Cornell affiliated hospital well suited for his long range clinical research in health care delivery. After turning around the CMC ophthalmology residency program, Paton had then reached the point where he could focus on mechanisms for improvement in eye care delivery systems.
Toward that end, in 1989 Paton started the EXCEL Foundation, a not-for-profit public foundation. The foundation is dedicated to demonstrating how high-tech instrumentation operated with a large paraprofessional staff can provide high quality care at affordable cost. Virtually all research of the foundation relates in one way or another to the study and improvement of eye care delivery. Projects include the development of an annual sabbatical professorship in systems of eye care delivery, with the appointment made by a blue ribbon committee of distinguished ophthalmologists and the initiation of eye surgery projects in the Third World for efficient eye care in Foundation-sponsored, replicated eye care ophthalmic units.
In keeping with his long established track record of developing innovative and successful eye care projects in the developing world, Dr. Paton in 1991 became one of the initial founders of the One World Sight Project, Inc. (OWSP). OWSP is an international fund raising effort committed to exploring novel global fund raising ideas to benefit existing eye care organizations and encourage their integrated and coordinated efforts. Dr. Paton continues on the Board of Directors of OWSP, offering his insight and experience in eye care delivery to contribute to the success of this ambitious plan.
In November 1987, Paton received The Presidential Citizens Medal in an oval office ceremony; and in September 1988, he was made Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor.