Paul E. Tornambe, MD


Contributed by Anne Hanneken, MD

Dr. Tornambe, lecturing at the 2016 ASRS Meeting in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Kevin Caldwell Photography.

Considered the father of Pneumatic Retinopexy, Paul Tornambe, MD, was a surgical innovator, pioneering new techniques and surgical instruments for the treatment of retinal detachment and macular holes. Always questioning the status quo, Dr. Tornambe was quick to realize that pneumatic retinopexy was a less invasive treatment for the surgical repair of retinal detachments and he promoted this technique throughout his career with the resolve and determination that defined him professionally, sharing his knowledge, support, and insights with colleagues across the globe. He later endorsed macular hole surgery without face down positioning to improve patient’s comfort after surgery with the same determination and commitment. His accomplished career spanned four decades and he was respected and admired by colleagues around the world who valued his clinical insights, creative ideas, and loyal friendship.

Paul was born in Queens, New York, to a close-knit and loving Italian family. His father, a physician, practiced out of the family home and instilled his love for medicine in his sons. Paul credited his father for teaching him the proverbial words of wisdom that he used throughout his life. Sayings such as “Put the patient’s welfare ahead of everything else” and “There’s no right way to do the wrong thing” were two of his favorite quotes which he attributed to his father’s sage advice.  

At meetings and in his clinic, Paul always challenged the current dogma for patient care. He never shied away from a controversial subject, a trait which defined him professionally and engendered much respect. He never short-changed a colleaguewho needed his advice. There was neither a subject too complex nor an issue too small to bypass his attention.

Dr. Tornambe and his good friend Jerry Bovino, MD, at the 2007 ASRS Meeting. Photo courtesy of Kevin Caldwell Photography.

Paul was a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Macula Society, the Retina Society, the American Ophthalmological Society, and many others. He founded the Meeting of the Masters, was an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California San Diego and served as the President of the American Society of Retina Specialists (2003-2004). Paul received several Honor Awards from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (1992 & 2003) and the Crystal Apple Award from the American Society of Retina Specialists (2004). He was the author of dozens of manuscripts and book chapters, a member of many advisory boards, and the principal investigator of numerous medical and surgical clinical trials.



Founded Retina Consultants San Diego (RCSD), one of the first academically-oriented private practices.

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Pioneered pneumatic retinopexy as a less invasive treatment for retinal detachments.

(Additional references (1-3) below)

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Introduced the Tornambe Eye Level for positioning post pneumatic retinopexy patients.

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Promoted the use of telemedicine to screen for diabetic retinopathy and retinal disease.

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Wrote, designed and introduced one of the first electronic retina medical records (EMR).

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Introduced a high magnification 36-degree contact lens for macular surgery (Insight Instruments)

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Introduced a 25-gauge surgical chandelier light, The Tornambe Torpedo

(See reference 5 below)

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President of the American Society of Retina Specialists

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Recipient of the Crystal Apple Award from the American Society of Retina Specialists

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Founded the International Masters of Retina meeting

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Designed a Sutureless Scleral Buckling Element

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Academic Appointment

1979- 1995

  • Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, University of California, San Diego


  • Director of Retina Service, Loma Linda University


  • Retina Consultant, Department of Defense, Balboa Naval Medical Center


  • University of California, San Diego, Family Practice, Diabetes Free Screening Clinic

Education & Training

Fellowship: Washington University, St. Louis, Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, 1977-1978

Residency: Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, 1974-1976

Medical School: Creighton Medical School, Omaha, Nebraska, 1969-1972

Internship: Highland General Hospital, Oakland, California, 1972-1973

Undergraduate: Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, 1964-1968

Anne Hanneken, MD

Dr. Tornambe and Anne Hanneken, MD at the 2006 Retina Society Meeting in Cannes, France. Photo courtesy of Kevin Caldwell Photography.

I knew Paul Tornambe for many years both as a retinal colleague and later as his partner at Retina Consultants San Diego. He was beloved by his friends, peers, and patients for three special traits: his creative and entrepreneurial mind, his colorful personality and his philosophy of life. While Paul was passionate about pioneering new surgical approaches to improve patient outcomes, it was this talent, creative insights and charisma that made him one of the most beloved retinal physicians. At national and international meetings, his keen wit and provocative comments attracted an audience of admiring fans. When he stood up to speak at the podium or make an editorial comment after a talk, the crowd eagerly anticipated his remarks. His comments were not only astute and thought-provoking but equally entertaining, including the 2019 Vail meeting when he jested about his impression of the new millennium physicians, who he critiqued, “wanted to see 70 patients a day, finish by 5 pm, run to the gym and then drink lite beer.” Frank Koch, MD quipped back that “no self-respecting German would ever drink lite beer” to a roar of laughter.  

Paul was deeply committed to his patients and he worked tirelessly to improve their clinical outcomes. In addition to his surgical innovations, he had the ability to put every patient at ease when he came into the room, a talent which he accomplished by finding common ground. That commonality might have been golf, a sport that he loved and at which he excelled, or it may have been medicine, automobiles or music. His interests were vast. He used this talent, combined with his clinical expertise and his witty sense of humor, to build a strong rapport with his patients. He was never rushed and took as much time as necessary to answer all their questions and review all their options. His patients were as devoted to him as he was to them.

Paul’s philosophy of life was deeply rooted in his childhood up bringing and the influence of his physician father. His famous sayings reflect his sense of humor and his philosophy of life:

  • It's hard to make a patient any better if they don’t have complaints.
  • There is no disease in the human body that can’t be made worse by a doctor.
  • Injections are likepopcorn; you never know when to stop.  
  • Laser is like putting salt on potatoes, you can always put more in, but you can’t take it out.
  • There’s always room at the top, but it’s standing room only.
  • Never be afraid to do the right thing
  • Whenever I go on vacation, 30% of my patients get better.
  • Do something nice for someone else and you’ll get back 10 times in return.

Paul will always be remembered for his pioneering contributions to vitreoretinal surgery, his generosity of spirit to friends and colleagues, his devoted care of patients, and his creative and inventive mind.

Read additional personal reflections on Dr. Tornmabe in this Retina Times article: Remembering ASRS Past President Paul E. Tornambe, MD (1946-2019).


  1. The Retinal Detachment StudyGroup. Pneumatic retinopexy. A multicenter randomized controlled clinical trialcomparing pneumatic retinopexy with scleral buckling. Tornambe PE, Hilton GF.Ophthalmology. 1989 Jun;96(6):772-83.
  2. Pneumatic retinopexy. A two-yearfollow-up study of the multicenter clinical trial comparing pneumaticretinopexy with scleral buckling. P E Tornambe, G F Hilton, D A Brinton, T P Flood, S Green, W S Grizzard, M E Hammer, S R Leff, L Masciulli, C M Morgan, et al. Ophthalmology. 1991 Jul;98(7):1115-23.
  3. Pneumatic retinopexy: theevolution of case selection and surgical technique. A twelve-year study of 302eyes. Tornambe PE. Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 1997; 95:551-578.
  4. The Evolution of Macular Hole Surgery Twenty YearsAfter its Original Description. Tornambe, P.E., American Journal of Ophthalmology, 2009, V147: 954-56
  5. Tornambe P. Vitrectomy surgery illumination using#26 torpedo mini lights. Video presented at: The Fourth Annual Vitreous SocietyFilm Festival; April 2-4, 2002; San Francisco, CA.

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(Tribute published in 2022)