It was with sadness that we learnt of the death in January 2022 of David Easty, for 27 years Consultant in Ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital, the first Professor of Ophthalmology at Bristol University, founder of the National Eye Research Centre and Chairman of Friends of Bristol Eye Hospital from 2003 until 2009.
David was a member of the Friends from 1979 and a loyal supporter. We were honoured and delighted when, after retiring from a long and distinguished career in the course of which corneal transplant surgery was transformed, he became our Chairman. During his tenure he instituted numerous fundraising events and activities which increased our profile, doubled our revenue from such events and set a new standard.
A patient recently wrote: “David Easty was my corneal consultant for nearly 20 years and performed a complicated transplant on a congenital glaucoma eye. The care he gave me through a succession of post-operative problems was second to none. Nothing was too much trouble and he supported me through many crises. I felt we were in it together and that he wanted the better vision I craved almost as much as I did.” – a heart-felt tribute giving a patient’s perspective on David’s skill and care as a consultant.
We remember David with huge gratitude and affection.
David was appointed as a Consultant in Ophthalmology at Bristol Eye Hospital in 1972, specialising in diseases of the cornea and corneal surgery. He had previously worked at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Prior to his medical training he had undertaken National Service and also spent over a year in Antarctica carrying out research into lipid metabolism.
He was instrumental in establishing ophthalmology as a separate department in the University Department of Surgery, and became the first Professor and Head of the new Department of Ophthalmology in 1982. David built up a world-renowned research department and was particularly noted for his research into herpes infection in the eye and into corneal immunology and graft rejection.
A generation of trainee ophthalmologists and basic scientists were encouraged to get involved in research. He was an excellent and sympathetic teacher of medical and surgical aspects of ophthalmology.
David set up an MSc course for foreign graduates that ran for several years and some of the most successful were admitted to the Bristol Eye Hospital training programme to further their clinical experience.
In 1983, together with the Medical Director of the UK Transplant Service, he set up the Corneal Transplant Service to distribute eyes from donors to hospitals wherever they were needed in the country. In 1986 the Bristol Eye Bank was established introducing organ culture storage of corneas in the UK for the first time. This meant that corneas could be kept in a nutrient medium at normal body temperature and extended the storage time to four weeks compared with the previous four days in refrigerated storage. This transformed corneal transplant surgery from an emergency out-of-hours operation to a scheduled procedure that could be planned in advance. Within two years, 1,000 corneas a year from the Bristol Eye Bank were being distributed through the UK Transport Service to hospitals throughout the UK. A sister eye bank was set up in Manchester in 1989 and by 2015, 70,000 corneas had been supplied from the two centres for transplant operations – a fitting tribute to David Easty.
In 1986, he also founded the National Eye Research Centre based at Bristol Eye Hospital. Since then, over £17m has been awarded in research grants to more than 20 universities across the UK.
David had also served as a trustee of the Friends for over a year in the early 1980s but pressure of work meant he could not continue with this commitment at that time. It was much appreciated that, as soon as he had fully retired, he kindly returned to serve the Friends energetically for a further five years as Chairman. Thank you, David.