1. Oct 23, 2020

Ophthalmology remembers Alan Crandall, MD

By Mark L. Dlugoss Senior Contributing Editor

Whether you knew Alan Crandall, MD, as an accomplished cataract and glaucoma surgeon, or as a clinician, a researcher, a teacher, a mentor, a humanitarian, or just as a professional acquaintance, he will be remembered by all as a giant in ophthalmology for decades to come.

Dr Crandall passed away on October 2, 2020 from complications associated with a dissecting aortic aneurysm. He was 73.

“Dr Crandall was a brilliant, caring surgeon who dedicated his many talents to helping others in Utah and around the world,” said Randall J. Olson, MD, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and CEO of the John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah. “His boundless compassion and deep commitment to improving the lives of his patients forever impacted everyone who knew him.”

Dr Crandall served 39 years at the Moran Eye Center, where he was senior vice chairman and director of glaucoma and cataract. He also held the title of John E. Marva M. Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

Dr Olson issued a statement regarding Dr Crandall’s passing on the Moran Eye Center website, highlighting his career. He said the Moran Eye Center’s recognition as a center of excellence in a large part was attributed to Dr Crandall, who was devoted to “our mission of providing hope, treatment, and understanding for all. His kindness knew no bounds, and the example he set is deeply embedded in all of us. His memory will always shine as a beacon of inspiration and his legacy will always endure.”

See Dr Olson’s statement here

Although Dr Crandall’s focus was on the medical and surgical management of glaucoma and cataract, he also was noted for handling complicated anterior segment surgery. Dr Olson pointed out that Dr Crandall was credited with inventing several surgical techniques, and he was involved in many clinical research studies that improved surgical outcomes and clinical care.

“He skillfully handled the most challenging cases, and his surgical skills were legendary,” Dr Olson added. “(He was) frequently invited to lecture and train around the world. Dr Crandall was always happy to share his knowledge.”

Dr Crandall lectured internationally at ophthalmic conferences and educational institutions worldwide and published over 100 peer review papers and more than 10 medical books or chapters.

Throughout his career, Dr Crandall maintained busy academic and private practices, but he always found time to give back. He held positions with many ophthalmic organizations. He served as past president of American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS).

He was also an inaugural member of the ASCRS Glaucoma Clinical Committee; a founding member of the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF)’s Advisory Board for its annual Glaucoma 360 meeting; past president of the Utah Ophthalmology Society; a diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Board of Ophthalmology.

Dr Crandall received his bachelors and medical degrees from the University of Utah. After completing a surgery internship at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, he went on to obtain his ophthalmology residency and glaucoma fellowship at the Scheie Eye Institute, Philadelphia.

Although his career was highlighted with many professional accolades, it was Dr Crandall’s dedication to provide vision care to those less fortunate in the United States and throughout the world that inspired others. Dr Olson explained that Dr Crandall’s compassion lead him to start the Moran Eye Centers Global Outreach Division. He served as its senior medical director.

“Dr Crandall worked tirelessly to save vision by increasing access to eye care in developing countries and helping those who could not afford care in his own community,” Dr Olson said in his statement. “He trained hundreds of surgeons around the world and performed countless free surgeries to restore sight in Utah, on the Navajo Nation, and in more than 20 countries.”

Because of his humanitarian commitment and contributions, Dr Crandall was the only ophthalmologist to be recognized with the American Glaucoma Society Humanitarian Award, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) Humanitarian Award, the ASCRS Humanitarian Award, and the inaugural ASCRS Foundation Chang Humanitarian Award. His other humanitarian awards included the Health Care Heroes Award for Excellence in Health Care—Community Outreach and the Vocational Excellence Award for Humanitarian Service by Rotary International.

As word of Dr Crandall’s passing spread throughout the ophthalmic community, physicians and industry officials offered their thoughts, experiences, and condolences of someone they viewed as a legend in ophthalmology.

“Dr Crandall was and remains an inspiring and gracious eye surgeon, teacher, and humanitarian,” said Matthew Marano, MD, chief medical editor of Ophthalmology360 and chief of ophthalmology, St. Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, NJ, and St. Michael’s Medical Center, Newark, NJ. “His legacy will survive vividly in our hearts and minds as a special person, who graciously made a huge positive impact in so many individuals he cared for tirelessly.”

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SEE ALSO: Dr Crandall was more than colleague; he was a friend
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Dr Crandall was a member of the Ophthalmology360 Editorial Advisory Board. Dr Marano said it was an honor to have Dr Crandall serve on the board. “We mourn with so many, not just the loss of a brilliant and generous physician and surgeon, but a true rare talent and humanitarian who shared his many gifts.”

Robert Osher, MD, professor of ophthalmology, University of Cincinnati and medical director emeritus of the Cincinnati Eye Institute, knew Dr Crandall for 40 years. He will remember Dr Crandall as a gifted surgeon, who traveled the world sharing his expertise with surgeons on every continent.

“Ophthalmology has lost one of our treasured colleagues,” Dr Osher pointed out. “He was also a bona fide innovator—the glaucoma surgeon who first adopted small-incision cataract surgery (MIGS)—and his support for his fellows was truly inspiring.”

Dr Osher added that Dr Crandall was a warm, kind, selfless individual—a man of total integrity. “Alan was approachable by all,” Dr Osher recalled. “He would patiently stay long after our courses had ended, patiently answering question after question until the last attendee was satisfied.”

Robert Cionni, MD, of the Eye Institute of Utah, Salt Lake City, will remember Dr Crandall as an unique individual who loved and cared for everyone that walked into his life—regardless of who they were, where they came from, their political views, religious briefs, or their life choices.

“His contributions to the world of ophthalmology were immense over the span of his career,” Dr Cionni explained. “His was deeply committed to making ophthalmology, specifically anterior segment surgery, better through developing new techniques, working with companies to improve technologies, and training residents and fellows to be the best they could be. Many of the most skilled anterior segment surgeons we know today owe their expertise to his efforts.”

According to Richard Lewis, MD, co-founder of the Sacramento Eye Consultants, and chief medical officer of Aerie Pharmaceuticals Inc, there is no shortage of well-deserved accolades to describe Dr Crandall. Dr Lewis called Dr Crandall compassionate, fearless, a mentor, a listener, involved, caring, fun, outgoing, hardworking, a humanitarian, cutting-edge, available, and the consummate physician.  

“He was always available at meetings, online, internationally,” Dr Lewis added. “He never said no. It is a shame as most of us thought he was invincible. Certainly no one can fill those shoes.”

Terry Kim, MD, president of ASCRS, remembered Dr Crandall as a talented surgeon, dedicated educator, and passionate humanitarian caregiver who always put others before himself. Dr Kim is also professor of ophthalmology and chief of the Cornea and External Division and director of the Refractive Surgery Service, Duke University, Durham, NC.

“We will all miss his good friendship, sound advice, and countless stories about overcoming adversity in his personal and professional life that always were filled with humor and amazement,” Dr Kim added.

Eduardo C. Alfonso, MD, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Miami and director of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, sees the passing of Dr Crandall as a huge loss for ophthalmology. Dr Alfonso called his professional career incredible.

“Alan was a colleague, physician, teacher, and incredible human being,” Dr Alfonso said. “Our paths did not cross enough because of our different specialties. His reputation at Bascom Palmer was that he was the provider to refer difficult glaucoma and anterior segment cases to in Utah.”

Dr Crandall’s career also has not gone unnoticed among the younger generations of ophthalmic surgeons, many of whom who will carry Dr Crandall’s legacy for decades to come.

Daniel Lee, MD, assistant professor and the director of the Glaucoma Research Center, Wills Eye Hospital, Philadelphia, is one member of the younger generation who learned from Dr Crandall’s career. Dr Lee viewed him as a “legend.”

“Though I didnt know Dr Crandall personally, he has undeniably influenced me and my generation of younger glaucoma surgeons,” Dr Lee said.

Dr Lee added that he was a surgeons surgeon,” consummate educator, and humanitarian.

“As a cataract and glaucoma surgeon, he was an innovator and master of his craft,” Dr. Lee continued. “His dedication and love for his field, colleagues, and patients were apparent to all who had the honor to know him and most certainly will be his lasting legacy.”

John Berdahl, MD, in private practice at Vance Thompson Vision, Sioux Falls, SD, was another of the younger generation of surgeons who heard about Dr Crandall’s work. To him, Dr Crandall was a giant in ophthalmology—the type of person people would tell stories about.

“I first heard about Dr Crandall as a resident 2000 miles away (at Duke University),” Dr Berdahl said. “His surgical prowess was legendary, and he made residents at Utah bulletproof. He had the unique ability to inspire from afar and pull out the absolute best from those he was close to.”

“Alan was one of those rare people who definitively gave more than he took,” Dr Berdahl added. “Our beloved profession is better because of him and let us honor his memory by seeking to give more than we take.”

Dr Crandall was a skilled surgeon, researcher, and clinician, and his influences and contributions to industry were well recognized. He worked with many companies to improve the technologies and innovations they developed. The ophthalmic industry will miss his contributions.

Chris Calcaterra, chief operating officer at Glaukos, was a close friend of Dr Crandall. The two met in 1998 when Calcaterra was vice president of U.S. sales at Allergan Surgical. He was able to donate several phacoemulsification machines for Dr Crandall’s philanthropic work in Africa and the Asia Pacific.

“From that day forward, we remained close friends,” Calcaterra said. “One of Alans greatest attributes was his loyalty to his friends. He never forgot that gesture and he always appreciated the supplies/products that I was able to secure for him while at Advanced Medical Optics and Glaukos.”

Dr Crandall also gave his time to various ophthalmic organizations, particularly to the GRF and its annual Glaucoma 360 meeting. He served on the advisory board of the Glaucoma 360 and participated in every meeting.

“We were so fortunate to have his leadership and involvement over the years,” Tom Brunner, president and CEO of GRF, said. Alan was always an advocate for global ophthalmology.”

Brunner pointed out that Dr Crandall was an exceptional glaucoma specialist with deep compassion for his patients. His impact on the field of glaucoma was enormous.

“Through his clinical work in Utah as well as his outreach efforts, he changed the lives of countless patients and mentored and taught surgeons around the world,” Brunner said. “We will miss him dearly.”

 At Aerie Pharmaceuticals, many of the company officials knew Dr Crandall personally. They will remember his sincerity, generosity, and advocacy over the years with deep gratitude for what he contributed as a glaucoma specialist.

"The whole Aerie family mourns the loss of Dr Alan Crandall, even as we celebrate a life so well-lived in the service of others,” said Thomas A. Mitro, president and COO. “Just as he was through a long, illustrious career, Dr Crandall will remain an inspiration in our work across ophthalmology and a shining example of what ‘vocation’ can really mean–and accomplish!”

Chuck Hess, vice president and general manager of the Bausch + Lomb U.S. Surgical Business, said all of ophthalmology has been touched by Dr Crandalls caring nature, his creative and innovative mind, his love of teaching, and his focus on patients.

The mission trips he was a part of, caring for others, and restoring vision to countless people around the globe will be what sticks with me the most,” Hess explained. “We will miss him dearly, but will celebrate his influence on all of us as we share our memories of Dr Crandall.”

Russell Trenary, executive advisor at InnFocus, a Santen Co, pointed out that there was no one more respected in ophthalmology than Dr Crandall. Like other physicians and members in industry, Trenary will remember Dr Crandall as a giant in the industry for his service and intellect, “but perhaps even that was overshadowed by his humility and the regard and respect he had for others.

"What an example for humanity!” Trenary concluded. “He is greatly missed and while we are left with a sense of emptiness, the life example he gave us is a gift to be treasured.”

(Photo courtesy of the Glaucama Research Foundation)