Reader and Industry Forum
Paying Tribute to Sheldon Wechsler, OD, FAAO
By Edward S. Bennett, OD, MSEd, FAAO, & Stanley J. Yamane, OD, FAAO
On March 20th, the contact lens industry lost yet another influential leader, educator, and pioneer with the passing of Sheldon Wechsler, OD, FAAO. Dr. Wechsler’s influence has greatly impacted students, lens practitioners, and—through one of the greatest innovations in contact lens history—millions of patients.
Influential Educator and Leader
After 20 years in private practice in California, Dr. Wechsler turned to education. He was a full-time or adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston College of Optometry, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, the University of California-Berkeley School of Optometry, and the Southern California College of Optometry.
He was a member of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists, the International Society for Contact Lens Research, and was a Distinguished Practitioner in the National Academies of Practice.
His many honors included the John Neill Award from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, the Dean’s Award from the University of Houston, and the Founder’s Award from the National Optometric Association. Both a Fellow and a Diplomate, he was a leader in the American Academy of Optometry where he served as chair of the Section on Cornea and Contact Lenses and ultimately was honored with the Section’s Founder’s Award. In addition, the American Optometric Foundation, via support from Vistakon, annually presents several Sheldon Wechsler Contact Lens Residency Awards to deserving cornea and contact lens residents.
Revolutionizing the Industry
Outshining these, Dr. Wechsler’s legacy will always be what started as a “secret project” that he initiated for a relatively small contact lens laboratory that had recently been purchased by Johnson & Johnson.
Dr. Yamane remembers these events well: “Shel visited me in Hawaii after he left academia and started working for Frontier Contact Lenses in Jacksonville, Fla. We developed a special friendship. I didn’t know at the time that the company, which soon changed its name to Vistakon, was working on a secret project that would revolutionize the contact lens world: disposable soft contact lenses.
“In 1987, Shel asked several outstanding colleagues and myself to fly to New Brunswick, N.J., to discuss a secret project. When the concept was shared with us at that initial meeting, I remember being one of the most vocal critics. However, after working with the new disposable soft contact lenses for a few months, I became one of the most enthusiastic converts.
“About four years later, Shel shared that he was thinking of retiring and was looking for his successor. I was very pleasantly surprised and honored to be asked to succeed him as the vice president of Professional Affairs upon his retirement. During the two years that I ‘interned’ under him, he taught me so much about how to fill the huge shoes he was leaving behind.”
A Lasting Legacy
Dr. Wechsler was a great educator, mentor, leader, and visionary. The new technology developed at Vistakon that allowed lenses to be provided in a six-pack form and disposed of on a regular basis resulted in healthier eyes and more consistent quality of vision. The revolutionary concept forever changed the contact lens industry, and as a result, his legacy will live on well into the future. CLS
Dr. Bennett is assistant dean for Student Services and Alumni Relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry and is executive director of the GP Lens Institute. You can reach him at email@example.com. Dr. Yamane, a Diplomate in and past chair of the American Academy of Optometry’s Section on Cornea, Contact Lenses and Refractive Technologies, is a retired private practitioner and retired vice president of Professional Affairs for Vistakon.