Dr. Irvin Pollack, ophthalmologist and laser surgery pioneer, dies

Dr. Irwin Pollack - Original Credit:
Dr. Irwin Pollack - Original Credit: (HANDOUT)

Dr. Irvin Pollack, a retired ophthalmologist who founded Sinai Hospital's Krieger Eye Institute and was a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor, died of cancer March 1 at his Pikesville home. He was 85.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Lanvale Street, he was the son of Samuel and Rose Diamond Pollack, who ran a grocery store.


He was a 1949 City College graduate and received a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University. He then graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

After an internship at Sinai Hospital, he performed his residency at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis and trained under Dr. Bernard Becker, an early glaucoma specialist.


On a visit to Camp Airy, a summer camp in Thurmont, he met his future wife, Marlene Chernak, whose father was the camp director.

"He asked a friend who was the cute girl in the white blouse," said his daughter, Shelley Pollack Schwartz of Delaware.

"It was love at first sight," recalled his wife. "We had a wonderful marriage. He was a consummate gentleman and an excellent physician."

Dr. Pollack began his association with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the 1960s. Working at Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute, he did research on glaucoma. He had a multifaceted carrier — seeing patients, conducting research and teaching. A professor of ophthalmology at the school, he became professor emeritus in 2007.

"Irv was uniquely generous to colleagues, and famously gracious to staff and patients," the Wilmer Eye Institute's Dr. Harry Quigley said in a statement. "His bedside manner brought calm to worried glaucoma sufferers, and his quiet affection for everyone who had the good fortune to work with him was legendary.

"Those of us who Irv trained and were his friends must try to emulate his amazing personality and his life view," he said.

Dr. Pollack treated patients with Dr. Arnall Patz at a Falls Road office.

"With Arnall Patz, he began the first use of lasers in glaucoma for iridotomy and trabeculoplasty," said Dr. Quigley. "It began the era of scientific medicine in the glaucoma field."

Colleagues said that in addition to his work with eye surgery, Dr. Pollack taught his students how to work with patients who were dealing with glaucoma.

"Irv came up with putting a small lens to focus a laser beam when performing a laser iridotomy but was too humble to allow the company that commercialized it to put his name on it," Dr. Paul Palmberg of the Bascom Palmer Institute in Miami said in an email. "When a patient expresses gratitude to us for rescuing them from an angle glaucoma attack, we owe Irv this thanks."

In 1983, he was recruited by Sinai Hospital and became the hospital's ophthalmologist in chief, a role he held until 1998. He also founded its Krieger Eye Institute. He retired in 2009.

"His patients loved him," said Dr. Don Abrams, Sinai's chief of ophthalmology and Krieger director. "They could wait five or six hours and they never complained. They often brought food with them if they missed a meal."


Dr. Abrams said Dr. Pollack's enduring influence is on residents and fellows who trained with him.

"His clinical and surgical skills, combined with his unparalleled bedside manner, made many of his trainees the physicians that they are today," said Dr. Abrams. "He grew the residency program and cultivated fellowship programs in ophthalmic sub-specialties as well. He participated in training hundreds of residents and fellows in his career."

He said Dr. Pollack was also a major fundraiser for Sinai Hospital.

"He raised millions of dollars to help support the opening and expansion of the Krieger Eye Institute, and more importantly to support the medical and surgical care of a large number of indigent patients in Baltimore," he said,

"He cultivated his grateful patients for decades to raise these funds," said Dr. Abrams, who added that those patients "have helped and continue to help hundreds of Baltimore's medically underserved citizens."

Dr. Pollack was a founding member of the American Glaucoma Society. Its members honored him at the organization's annual meeting last week. In 2010, Dr. Pollack's former students gathered in Baltimore for the Irvin Pollack Symposium to celebrate his contributions to eye health.

Dr. Pollack, an accomplished gardener, landscaped the grounds at his home. He entertained the Baltimore ophthalmological community at annual parties.

"My father saw the positive in every situation," said his daughter. "He was patient, kind, upbeat and generous. He made everyone feel loved, unconditionally."

Services were held March 3 at Sol Levinson and Brothers.

In addition to his wife of 58 years and daughter, survivors include two sons, Dr. John Pollack of Chicago and Brian Pollack of Baltimore; two other daughters, Linda Pollack Klitenic of Owings Mills and Carol Pollack Nelson of Rockville; and 10 grandchildren.

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