Pioneering ophthalmologist developed lenses, donated surgeries

Special to the Times-Herald

Ronald Murray Coburn, M.D., F.A.C.S., never turned anyone away in need of eye surgery at his practice on West Outer Drive in Dearborn; if patients did not have insurance or could not afford a necessary procedure, he simply would not charge them.

The renowned ophthalmologist’s generosity, as well as six intraocular replacement lenses used worldwide that he designed and developed, are part of the physician’s legacy.

Coburn died May 5, 2015 at age 71 after a brief illness.

An internationally known lecturer, teacher, technical advisor, author, and one of the nation’s leading cataract surgeons, Coburn was among a small number of ophthalmologists during the 1980s to revolutionize cataract surgery. Two of the lenses he invented were  judged to be the most nearly perfect fit for the anatomy of the human eye.

Coburn was tireless in his efforts to perfect cataract treatment, and co-developed a software system called Lens Stat which offered ophthalmologists a more precise method of measuring the eye for the proper fit of replacement lenses.

A leader in the diagnosis, research and treatment of cataracts and related diseases of the eye, Coburn was the first Michigan ophthalmologist to be board certified by the American Board of Eye Surgery in cataract and intraocular lens surgery.

Coburn performed thousands of successful eye surgeries during his career, including 42,000 cataract implants. He saved all of the thank you notes written to him by his patients which included such heartfelt messages as, “We feel so blessed to have you as our doctor,” “You are a blessing to me and my family,” and in one special handwritten note dated Sept. 16, 2004, “When one regains one’s vision, one regains his life. To my great benefactor, Dr. Coburn, my lifelong gratitude.”

Coburn attended the University of Michigan and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Science degree from Wayne State University in 1965. He received his medical degree from the WSU School of Medicine in 1969 and did his post-doctoral training at Harper Hospital.

Coburn served as the chief of ophthalmology at Straith Hospital for Special Surgery, was president of The Cataract Specialty Surgical Center in Berkley, and was the founder of The Coburn Clinic (later named the Coburn-Kleinfeldt Eye Clinic) in Dearborn and Livonia.

His fellowships included the American College of Surgeons, International College of Surgeons, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Society of Eye Surgeons, Royal Society of Medicine (London), Leadership Society, American College of Eye Surgeons, and Society for Excellence in Eyecare.

Coburn was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, American Diabetes Association, Michigan Ophthalmological Society, Michigan State Medical Society, Wayne County Medical Society, Research to Prevent Blindness, New York Academy of Science, International Association of Ocular Surgeons, International Eye Foundation, Society of Geriatric Ophthalmology, International Glaucoma Congress, and others.

Coburn’s other lifelong passion was professional race car driving. The native Detroiter became fascinated with cars when he was 3 years old and as he grew older, often said that one of his life ambitions was to come in first place at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. One of Coburn’s biggest thrills was coming in first place in 1997 in the Paine Webber Endurance Championship, Mid-Ohio.

Coburn married the love of his life, Barbara Joan Levy, on Feb. 23, 1969, and they recently celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary. He was extremely proud of his two children, Nicholas (Kari) Coburn and Lauren (Adam) Levitt and adored his three grandsons, Jacob and Aaron Coburn, and Zach Levitt.

The Bloomfield Hills resident also leaves his brother, Martin Coburn; his mother-in-law, Helen Levy; brothers and sisters-in-law, Dr. Howard (Nina) Levy and Dr. Philip (Denise) Levy, many nieces, nephews, family members, friends, and his dog, Sascha. He was the son of the late Jean and Sidney Cohen.

A private graveside service was held on May 7, 2015 at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale. Charitable contributions can be made to the charity of one’s choice. Funeral arrangements were handled by The Dorfman Chapel.