Blind World

Dr. Silverman's Priceless Gift To Premature Babies.

January 15, 2005., Connecticut.

The other day, my mom mailed me something she'd clipped from The New York Times. It was an obituary - the first I can recall ever getting from her.

It was about the death Dec. 16 in California of William A. Silverman, 87, a man I never knew or met. But because of him, I can have a favorite color. It is blue.

Because of him, I know that my first-born looks more like me than his brother and sister.

Because of Dr. Silverman, I can see.

Bill Silverman was the physician who discovered in the 1950s that premature babies were being blinded after birth by the use of too rich a mix of oxygen in the air pumped into neonatal ward incubators.

If not for him, I and many thousands of other people would most likely be blind.

I was born nearly three months premature in July 24, 1953, in Waterbury, just as hospitals nationwide began using his findings to adjust the blend of air used in premie wards.

I was a tiny 3 pounds and had a tough go of it at first, my parents would often tell me later on.

But I survived and thrived and had an active American boyhood that included viewing countless hours of crummy TV and readings mounds of comic books.

Over the years, my mom would sometimes remind me that shortly before I was born, a doctor somewhere had figured out how to prevent premature infants from going blind.

The enormity of this unnamed doctor's gift really struck me about 20 years ago when I read a newspaper story about a blind musician about my age from Plymouth, just north of where I'd been born. His blindness was a consequence of being born prematurely, the news account read.

He was just one month older than me.

Since then, I've often thought of the blind musician and the doctor whose research saved my eyesight.

But I never knew who to thank.

Now I do.

Thank you, Dr. Silverman.

Bill Leukhardt is New Britain assistant bureau chief for The Courant.

Source URL:,1,7896691.story?coll=hc-headlines-oped&ctrack=1&cset=true.

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