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    Swiss researcher developed magnet to remove foreign bodies

    Haab's interest in ocular trauma led to use of electromagnet for removing metal found in eye

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    Norman B. Medows, MD
    Magnets have led travelers andexplorers safely home and have spared ship's captains from the ocean depths. Today, they play a major role in medicine in the analysis of ourinternal organs by the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    Ophthalmology also had its era of the use of magnets.


    Figure 1: Title page of Operative Ophthalmology.
    Otto Haab (1850-1931) was born in Switzerland and received his medical degree in 1875 from the University of Zurich. He trained in ophthalmology with Albrecht von Graefe (1828-1870) in Berlin as well as with Johann Friederich Horner (1831-1886) at the University of Zurich Department of Ophthalmology. In 1886 when Horner died, Haab succeeded him as the department chair.

    Over the many years that Haab practiced, he made significant contributions to ophthalmology, primarily in the field of pathology, i.e., Haab's striae. He also produced a number of atlases of ophthalmology, including an atlas of external disease, an atlas of ophthalmoscopy, and an atlas of operative ophthalmology, which was first written in 1895 and was translated into English by George E. de Schweinitz (1858-1938) in 1905.


    Figure 2: George E. de Schweinitz (1858-1938).
    De Schweinitz was a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania and was a well-respected ophthalmologist. The book he translated is particularly interesting because it clearly shows the details of the surgery that Haab used and outlines very carefully how to do the surgery, using a broad group of graphic pictures of the surgical instruments. It includes 30 beautiful colored lithographs, showing some important aspects of the surgical procedures. All of Haab's books were well received and were highly sought after.


    Figure 3: Haabs electromagnet with patient being placed in proper position.
    An interest in ocular trauma Early on in Haab's career he became interested in ocular trauma. It was this interest that led him to develop an electromagnet in 1892 for removing metallic foreign bodies from the eye.


    Figure 4: Electromagnet in place with Dr. Haab holding lids open. Note foot pedal.
    The first removal of a metallic foreign body in the eye is credited to William A. McKeown (1844-1904), who in 1874 used an 8-inch hand-held magnet to remove a foreign body from an eye, making an opening in the sclera and entering the vitreous cavity.

    Julius Hirschberg (1843-1925), ophthalmology's great historian and also a disciple of von Graefe, also made important contributions to ophthalmology and was the first person to use an electromagnet for removing foreign bodies in 1879.

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