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.