Helmut Buettner, MD

Contributed by José Pulido, MD, and Michael Saad, MD Candidate

Helmut Buettner, MD, was born in Cologne, Germany, on November 21, 1940. He dedicated his life to ophthalmology, leaving a legacy of inspiration and devotion.

Dr. Buettner began his training in the field in 1962 at the University of Goettingen Medical School, followed by a fellowship in forensic pathology at the University of Bonn in  completing his fellowship, Dr. Buettner and his wife, Heide Hildegard Buettner, moved to Miami, Florida so he could further his education in ophthalmology.

His career continued at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute; there, he worked with Robert Machemer, MD, who also had come to the United States earlier from Germany. After a 2-year pre-residency fellowship, Dr. Buettner did a residency and vitreoretinal fellowship at Bascom Palmer.

Drs. Buettner and Machemer worked together on improving vitrectomy surgery and instrumentation. Helmut Buettner was excellent in histology and did experimental studies in choroidal flow; he helped elucidate diseases that we take for granted today like congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium. 

With Dennis Robertson, MD, they helped start a retina service at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and further studied diseases like acute macular neuroretinopathy and reticulum cell sarcoma, which we now call vitreoretinal lymphoma.

Drs. Buettner, Machemer, and Robertson were very busy in the clinic; they needed help, and brought in Colin McCannel, MD, a wonderful colleague who had completed medical school at Mayo Clinic and then had gone to UCLA. Together, they developed a very strong retina service that had fellows like Ira Priluck, MD, who later went to Omaha, Nebraska. 

There are the quiet giants and the ones who roar. Helmut was a quiet giant, but you knew he was a giant because he unknowingly exuded confidence and trust.

He loved travel and would venture around the world as a passenger on cargo ships. More importantly, he loved his family. Helmut and his wife, Heide were married for nearly 51 years; they had a son and a daughter, and became the proud grandparents of 5. Helmut and Heide also relished the long, cold winters in Minnesota.

Helmut Buettner passed away peacefully in his home on February 17, 2020. His pioneering work in vitrectomy made me a better doctor, and having the opportunity to work alongside him made me a better person.



Published his renowned work on vitrectomy surgery improvement and instrumentation,Vitrectomy, a Pars Plana Approach” and “A New Concept for Vitreous Surgery.I. Instrumentation” 1.2

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Began innovative experimental work on choroidal blood flow in “Experimental Deprivation of Choroidal Blood Flow: Retinal Morphology, Early Receptor Potential, and Electroretinography”

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Defied the clinical and histologic findings of congenital hypertrophy in “Congenital Hypertrophy of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium” 4

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Served as Mayo Clinic Residency Program Director

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Established long-term orbital manifestations of ionizing radiation used to treat Graves' ophthalmopathy in “Retinal Microvascular Abnormalities in Patients Treated With External Radiation for Graves' Ophthalmopathy.” 5

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Performed a risk-benefit analysis of the use of intravitreal methotrexate in various eye pathologies titled “Intraocular Methotrexate in Ocular Diseases Other Than Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma” 6

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Academic Appointment


  • Served as Mayo Clinic Residency Program director

Education & Training

Vitreoretinal surgery fellowship: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, 1976

Residency in ophthalmology: University of Miami, 1975

Residency in forensic pathology: University of Bonn, 1968

Medical School: University of Goettingen, 1966

Sophie J. Bakri, MD, FASRS, Chair and Professor of Ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic

Dr. Bakri noted that Dr. Buettner is remembered as an outstanding and compassionate clinician. She eloquently highlighted his impact to his community by asserting how he “touched the lives of many in countless ways: those he healed, those he trained, and the many colleagues who had the privilege to work with him. He is truly missed."

“I had the opportunity to work with he and Dr. Colin McCannel when Dr. Robertson retired. Dr. Buettner was a wonderful colleague who was grounded given his long experience, and it was great to discuss difficult cases with him. When it came to writing papers together, he would make important suggestions that assured their acceptance."


1.Machemer R, Buettner H, Norton EW, Parel JM. Vitrectomy: a pars plana approach. Trans Am Acad Ophthalmol Otolaryngol. 1971;75(4):813-820.

2. Machemer R, Parel JM, Buettner H. A new concept for vitreous surgery. I. Instrumentation. Am J Ophthalmol. 1972;73(1):1-7. doi:10.1016/0002-9394(72)90295-4

3. BuettnerH, Machemer R, Charles S, Anderson DR. Experimental deprivation of choroidal blood flow: retinal morphology, early receptor potential, and electroretinography. Am J  Ophthalmol. 1973;75(6):943-952.doi:10.1016/0002-9394(73)91081-7

4. BuettnerH. Congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium. Am J Ophthalmol. 1975;79(2):177-189.doi:10.1016/0002-9394(75)90069-0

5. Robertson DM, Buettner H, Gorman CA, et al. Retinal microvascular abnormalities inpatients treated with external radiation for Graves ophthalmopathy. Arch Ophthalmol. 2003;121(5):652-657. doi:10.1001/archopht.121.5.652

6. Hardwig PW, Pulido JS, Erie JC, Baratz KH, Buettner H. Intraocular methotrexate inocular diseases other than primary central nervous system lymphoma. AmJ Ophthalmol. 2006;142(5):883-885. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2006.06.002

(Tribute published in 2022)