Norman E. Byer, MD, was a leading expert in vitreoretinal surgery, and a dedicated researcher whose legacy shaped the field of ophthalmology. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. He completed his ophthalmology residency at UCLA and received training as a vitreoretinal surgeon as a Heed Fellow. In 1960, he opened his ophthalmology practice in Torrance, California, specializing in the retina. In 1988, he was honored as one of the top vitreoretinal surgeons in the world by receiving the Hermann Wacker Award. While remaining in private practice, he continued to serve as a clinical professor and volunteer faculty member of the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology for over three decades.
Despite his busy surgical practice, Dr. Byer had a prominent career in research and teaching. Dr. Byer, known for his vivid retinal photographs, was praised by his colleagues as “a magician when it comes to photographing the peripheral retina.” One of his great legacies is his textbook, “The Peripheral Retina in Profile: A Stereoscopic Atlas,” which is an invaluable resource for ophthalmologists and trainees looking to improve their technique for examining the retina. Dr. Byer’s outstanding contributions were recognized by numerous awards and honors. In 1988, he received the prestigious Hermann Wacker prize, which recognizes top vitreoretinal surgeons in the world. His exemplary dedication to cultivating future generations of vision experts was also well-recognized by his department at UCLA.
Dr. Byer’s professional career was mostly devoted to a careful study of the peripheral retina. Through his textbook, “The Peripheral Retinas in Profile: A Stereoscopic Atlas,” he shares his extensive clinical experience as a retinal surgeon and stereo photographs of the retina which are effective visual aids for trainees learning indirect ophthalmoscopy and lesions of the peripheral retina.
His research primarily involved evaluating the natural history of various peripheral retinal findings and prognostic factors for their progression. His research contributions revolutionized the clinical understanding of common retinal lesions with implications for management. An example of his work is a prospective study on the progression of subclinical retinal detachment (SCRD). His research demonstrated that SCRD often regresses spontaneously and is much less threatening to the eye compared to symptomatic retinal detachment with no justification for routine treatment. Similarly, he found that many common peripheral retinal findings such as lattice degeneration, retinoschisis, cystic retinal tufts, and asymptomatic retinal breaks are largely benign and do not require prophylactic therapy. Dr. Byer’s extensive work on lattice degeneration helped clarify the histopathological definition of the entity and addressed the common misconception that clinical diagnosis requires the presence of lattice lines. His famous review paper characterized different morphological features and variants of lattice degeneration.
His famous atlas and numerous research papers serve as an important resource for all generations of ophthalmologists and helped establish the standards for the diagnosis and management of common retinal findings. As a testament to his excellence in professional actions and dedication to teaching, the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology awarded the S. Rodman Irvine Prize in 1997.