Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum: The Man Who Gave My Son Sight

This morning my mother sent me a simple email. The subject line read: So Sad, and the body was a link to Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum’s obituary.

In the picture he’s smiling. Dr. Rosenbaum was not much of a smiler. He’s the man who takes your child’s eyeballs out retracts the skin around your child’s eyes, moves the muscles, and then puts them back in their sockets everything back into place. Eye surgeons are not a jovial bunch.  Alexander’s exams would typically elicit a smile at some point after he had cooperated, and only then the three of us would relax.

Dr. Rosenbaum was a huge part of my son’s life. When Alexander was six months old we started seeing him once every two weeks. Alexander had strabismus and amblyopia. He was born with eyes that were crossed, and one eye that didn’t move as much of the other, a lazy eye if you will. Eye exams for infants are neither simple nor short. You cannot examine a  baby who is crying, rubbing their eyes or napping. Poor Alexander, who has worn patches on his eyes and glasses since five months of age, would cry and then rub his eyes, conking himself out so that then he’d fall asleep, and our exam would be delayed. Dr. Rosenbaum would leave me with my sleeping baby, and return to the room afterward to continue the exam.

By the time Alexander was a year old we’d had two exams that had turned into six hour days. Dr. Rosenbaum never appeared frustrated, and his confidence that this was just a phase kept my worries at bay. Alexander and I both grew up in Dr. Rosenbaum’s office.

June 11, 2002 was the date of Alexander’s first surgery. Dr. Rosenbaum removed Alexander’s eye muscles nearest his nose, and reattached them so that his eyes would align. The goal was to uncross his eyes. The day of my son’s first surgery I aged ten years. Another surgery followed seven short months later, and the glasses and patching continue until this day.

We stopped seeing Dr. Rosenbaum every week, and it stretched to every two. Soon Alexander only needed to see him once a month, and before I could blink Alexander was big enough to sit alone in the exam chair. For the past few years we saw the doctor only once every two to three months. Dr. Rosenbaum was quick and efficient, and though kind, he never spoke to my son like he was a baby. Alexander was always part of the plan.

Last December the office went haywire, and we were told that Dr. Rosenbaum would be out of the office until February. I agonized about what to do, and after sleepless nights we decided to switch Alexander, temporarily, to another office. I felt terrible about it at the time, and up until yesterday I was certain that we’d see Dr. Rosenbaum any day. You see, when you went to Dr. Rosenbaum’s office at UCLA it was like being at the United Nations. People flocked to him from all over the globe. I always knew how lucky we were to live so nearby a world class surgeon like he.

It’s not just losing a doctor. My son would be blind in one eye, but for Dr. Rosenbaum. Alexander would not be able to make eye contact with people, and even if he’d been able to adjust physically, my son wouldn’t have been given the gift of a typical childhood. Dr. Rosenbaum had magic in his hands.

I think of all the mothers, and all their children who passed through Dr. Rosenbaum’s practice during the last 36 years, and I’m so grateful that my son was one of them. I think of the surgeries he preformed and the combination of art and science required to get those results. I look back at the toddler exams that exasperated both Dr. Rosenbaum and me, and I think how lucky we were, how incredibly blessed to have been his patients. It is simply tragic to lose a great man at a relatively young age.

Later today I will have to tell Alexander about Dr. Rosenbaum. I am absolutely unprepared for the pain this will bring my child.

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Comments 24

  1. I am familiar with Dr. Rosenbaum from working at Jules Stein Eye Institute. RIP Doc. Sorry for your family’s loss, Jess.

  2. My daughter’s pediatrician passed away and it was heartbreaking to tell her. She had such a crush on him. I feel for you. Kids are really resilient though, he will be fine. It will affect you much more and for much longer than it does him. Good luck.

  3. I too have experienced a close relationship with my daughter’s ophthalmologist since birth. We have been through two surgeries and I can not explain how this story has gripped my heart on several levels. I am so sad for your loss and I wish you all peace.

    My daughter’s every-two-month appointment is tomorrow. I am going to be sure to tell our doctor how much we appreciate him and his impact on our lives. I feel a sense of urgency to do so.

  4. I’m sorry for your loss, and for the loss to all the children he could have helped in the future. What a career! And 69 seems younger all the time.

    I am a little worried about the state of pediatric medicine in this country, when it comes to specialists. Many of the specialties are becoming so rare–the doctor a child needs might be a thousand miles away. Thank God that he was available to you guys when you needed him.

  5. Oh, Jessica. I’m so, so sorry for both you and your son. I can’t help but begin to think about how I felt when I learned that the manager at my dentist’s had passed. I can only imagine that your pain is much deeper and sadder, because this man really was there for you and your son for so long. I hardly knew Rosa, and her passing hurt beyond anything I could have expected. Dr. Rosembaum sounds like a wonderful man.

    And if you’re curious, here’s my post about Rosa: http://tinyurl.com/qz9m3u

  6. My father was a pediatrician and OB in a small Kentucky town. I can tell you that your words are the greatest gift you can give a doctor. He touched your lives and made a difference. He sleeps in peace with a smile in his soul.

    1. A couple of years ago I sent him a thank you note. I felt a little silly at the time, but I was so grateful that Alexander had vision in two eyes.

      I don’t regret that thank you note. I never will.

  7. This made me cry.

    I wore a patch on my eye when I was a year old and wore glasses at the age of two. I never even considered how theses appointments probably felt to my parents.

    I wish you all the luck tonight. Your boy is a special boy.

  8. Sometimes those people are so short on earth to remind us how special and unique they truly are…because if they lived a full long life we may forget.

    ~Trisha

  9. Hi Jessica, I just wanted to let you know how moving this post was, and how much empathy I have for you and your son. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of this invaluable expert who clearly played a huge role in your lives.

    My daughter has strabismus (accommodative esotropia) and started wearing glasses recently, when she was about 21 months old. We got three opinions on this issue (and have been through another health challenge that also required a search for the right expert). Sounds like my daughter’s eye issues aren’t as severe as your son’s were initially, but I think I really know how lucky you were to have found Dr. Rosenbaum! The hugeness of the hope and skills he offered.

    Your writing here really hit home for me. Thank you for sharing this, and I’m so glad that your son’s outcome has been excellent, thanks in large part to this amazing doctor. I hope Alexander handled the news okay. Take care.

  10. Great post. I don’t want to get snarky or anything, but when doing strabismus surgery as your great doctor did, Ophthalmologists don’t really remove the eyes from the socket and pop them back in. We retract them to one side or another to expose the insertions of the muscles under the conjunctiva, operate on them, and then let them swing back into position. It is much safer that way :). Great post and glad I discovered your writing and your Twitter feed. Your friend!

  11. Wow! So sad:( I heard in your voice when we spoke last week how much you loved this Dr!
    I did not mention to you that my son has a heart defect and I feel very similar to my son’s Cardiologist! Thanks for sharing!!

  12. Hi Jessica,
    I am Arthur Rosenbaum’s wife. My niece sent me your article and I was very touched. Thank you for your kind words. It is a terrible loss for me as well as all of his patients.

    I must make a comment,however, about how the surgery is done. Eye balls do NOT come out unless they are being removed for good. An instrument called a lid speculum holds the eye opened wide so the surgeon can get to the muscles around the eye to adjust them either by shortening them or re-positioning them to solve the muscle misalignment problem.
    It’s complicated and a lot more involved than my one sentence but the eyeball does not come out. I thought you should know.

    All good wishes,
    Sandra Rosenbaum

    1. Post
      Author

      Updated the post. All that pre-op stuff? When your husband told me about it, it was like hearing the adults talking during the Peanuts movies.

      WAH WAH WAH… things that freak me out.

      I am so incredibly sorry for your loss, and so incredibly grateful to have been touched by your family.

  13. Pingback: Contact Lenses — Jessica Gottlieb

  14. I was a patient of Dr. Rosenbaums I remember hearing very similar stories from my mom about me acting up in his office. I was born with cataracts and Dr. Rosenbaum performed my first surgery at the age of one. Something went terribly wrong it was a mystery even to him and I lost my vision in that eye. He performed my second cataract surgery 13 years later and it was a huge success. I went from seeing very little to 20/20. I will never forget him he made it possible for me to see. I remember the day after the surgery for my post op appointment he saw me in the waiting room, looked at me and said “Can you see?” I nodded and he had a huge grin on his face. As you know it was very unlike him to ask you a question unless you were in the appointment with him. That moment is still so strong in my memory. I will never forget him. What a wonderful man he will be greatly missed.

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