Dr. Gunter K. von Noorden, former chief and founder of Texas Children’s Hospital Ophthalmology, passed away February 18, 2017, at the age of 88. He was known as one of the “fathers of pediatric ophthalmology” for his contributions to strabismus surgery and overall leadership in the field for more than 40 years.
Von Noorden committed his entire career to the study and treatment of strabismus and amblyopia. He was a pioneer researcher in the area of visual neurophysiology and transferred those new discoveries in strabismic and anisometropic amblyopia into improved clinical care. Through his relentless efforts and inspiration, ophthalmologists worldwide acquired new knowledge and understanding in pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus.
“Dr. von Noorden made Texas Children’s Hospital Ophthalmology Division what it is today,” said Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. David Coats. “His contributions to the hospital will forever be remembered and appreciated.”
Born in Germany in 1928, von Noorden’s family moved to Berlin in 1937. This had a profound impact on his life – exposing him to Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship and Nazi propaganda. Following his involvement in Battle of Berlin in 1945 and the end of WWII, von Noorden was determined to dedicate his life to healing others, and he worked his way through medical school at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University.
Von Noorden began his medical career as a resident at the University of Iowa in 1957, which was followed by a fellowship at the University of Tuebingen Eye Clinic in Germany. He then returned to the University of Iowa, spending two years as an assistant professor of ophthalmology. In 1963, von Noorden became a professor at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In 1972, he moved to Houston to direct the Ocular Motility Service at Baylor College of Medicine.
Von Noorden was a professor of Ophthalmology and Pediatrics at Baylor, chief of the Ophthalmology Service at Texas Children’s Hospital, and adjunct professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Houston from 1972 to 1995. Following an interval of retirement and appointment as professor emeritus, he rejoined the Baylor faculty as professor of Ophthalmology in July 2006, until resigning in October 2008. The Board of Trustees of Baylor then appointed von Noorden Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmology in December 2008.
Von Noorden was charter member and former president of the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology (AAPOS), the International Strabismological Association (ISA), and the American Orthoptic Council (AOC). He also served as former president of the American Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).
In his lifetime, he published 310 scientific papers and authored four books, including Ocular Motility and Binocular Vision: Theory and Management of Strabismus. The book has been heralded as the “gold-standard text for ocular motility disorders.”
Von Noorden presented 21 named lectures worldwide and received numerous awards. His many honors included the Jackson Lecturer (American Academy of Ophthalmology – AAO), Bowman Lecturer (British Ophthalmological Society), Costenbader Lecturer (American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus – AAPOS), first Bielschowsky Lecturer (International Strabismological Association – ISA), Proctor Lecturer (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology), and Ticho Lecturer (Israel Society of Ophthalmology).
He received the Franceschetti-Liebrecht-Award from the German Ophthalmological Society in 1984 and, in 1996, was awarded an honorary doctorate of medicine and surgery from the University of Bologna. In 2015, von Noorden was inducted in the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Hall of Fame as being “truly unique in his field and the ultimate triple threat: outstanding clinician, world-renowned teacher and author, and incredibly productive research scientist, highlighted by his path finding studies on the neuropathology of amblyopia.”