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Obituaries

Dr. Svyatoslav Fyodorov; Pioneered Vision Correction Through Corneal Surgery

June 03, 2000|ROBYN DIXON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — The last television footage of Dr. Svyatoslav Fyodorov, the renowned Russian eye surgeon who pioneered radial keratotomy, showed him striding energetically toward a helicopter and taking a seat in the craft that carried him to his death.

As a young man Fyodorov had trained to be a pilot, but he lost a leg in a plane crash during flying lessons. Forced to give up his chosen career, he went into medicine, but he never lost his desire to fly.

Recently, the 72-year-old surgeon received his helicopter license, although he was not flying the craft when it crashed Friday evening on the outskirts of Moscow, killing all four people aboard. The identities of the others and the cause of the crash were not immediately available.

In his last speech, at one of his clinics in Tambov, 300 miles southeast of Moscow, Fyodorov spoke about his main goal: improving people's lives.

Throughout his life, he had done just that, helping hundreds of thousands of people through his pioneering eye surgery. His development of radial keratotomy in the 1970s allowed thousands of people with poor vision to throw away their glasses.

The procedure, which preceded laser surgery, involves making radial slices in the cornea, the clear tissue that forms a protective layer over the eye. As the cuts heal, the cornea contracts and vision improves. Fyodorov's technique was exported around the world.

"We must make people's life better, so that they can see well, so that they will be comfortable in this clinic, in Tambov, so that they can live well all over our country. This is the goal that unites all of us. This is a wonderful goal," he said in a speech just hours before his death.

Born in Ukraine, Fyodorov lived out his belief that Russia's deliverance lay in the gift of its people.

In the 1960s, he pioneered a revolutionary operation to implant artificial lenses in patients after cataract operations. The procedure was condemned by Soviet authorities as "anti-physiological."

"I had to struggle for this matter. I was opposed by all the professors in Russia and the Soviet Union. I broke medical canons by introducing new technology, and those who violate canons are revolutionaries, pioneers," he said in a 1995 interview. "If they emerge victorious, they become popular."

In 1986, Fyodorov built a large eye hospital in Moscow and went on to open dozens of clinics around the country. He also founded clinics outside Russia, including an eye clinic on a ship.

A familiar figure to Russians with his gray, spiky hair and stocky build, Fyodorov took part in the 1996 presidential race and won nearly 1% of the vote.

He grew up in poverty, often going hungry during the first seven years of his life. During the Great Terror, the Stalinist purges, his father disappeared, and word came that he had been shot. In fact, he was in a prison camp. Fyodorov was only 11. It was not until 1955 that the father and son were reunited.

One of Fyodorov's burning aims was to eliminate poverty, and in the dying days of the Soviet Union he became a prominent advocate of privatization.

"I believe a man without property is half crippled. He is half slave and half hireling. He who has nothing to leave his children is a homeless outcast," he said in a 1990 interview.

"We have been living according to the principle of equality in poverty and uniform ideology. People have been living like a faceless mass in which the personality is completely lost. For 72 years we have been advocating false values."

Fyodorov's prominence and eloquence on those themes were such that in 1991, then-recently elected President Boris N. Yeltsin invited him to be prime minister. Fyodorov never took the post, but he served in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, from 1996 to 1999.

Fyodorov and his wife had four daughters, Itar-Tass reported.

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