ESCRS - The Olympian Ophthalmologist ;
Issue Cover, Global Ophthalmology, Retina, Cornea, Corneal Therapeutics, Paediatric, Paediatric Ophthalmology

The Olympian Ophthalmologist

Henry Stallard’s remarkable career had many milestones.

The Olympian Ophthalmologist
Sean Henahan
Sean Henahan
Published: Monday, July 1, 2024

This year’s Olympiad in Paris marks the cen­tenary of the last time the Games took place in the City of Light. The 1924 Olympics were later made famous in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, featuring some British athletes’ quest for gold, particularly in running events. Among the select athletes competing for Britain was Hyla (Henry) B Stallard, who would earn a medal in Paris. He would also go on to reach Olympian heights in his chosen field of ophthalmic surgery.

As detailed in an excellent video assembled by Hugh Williams1, Henry Stallard had become one of the fastest middle-distance runners in British history years before the Paris Games. In 1920, he was part of a combined Oxford-Cambridge University team that travelled to the United States for a two-mile relay race against America’s fastest runners. The British team won, setting a new world record in the category. His amateur athletics career continued as a member of the Cambridge University Athletics team. He went on to win the one-mile race against Oxford three years in a row, in 1920, 1921, and 1922. He was also part of the Oxford-Cambridge team that set a world record in the 4×880-yard relay in 1922. His mile record held until Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile mark in 1954.

Stallard was selected to run the 800 and 1500 metres at the 1924 Olympics. He injured his right foot in the final of the 800 m, finishing fourth. He then ran in the 1500 m despite having what turned out to be a metatarsal stress fracture in the right foot. He ran against the doctor’s advice, saying famously, “I am going to run tomorrow if I never run again.” He nonetheless received a bronze medal, later apologizing for his “poor show.”

His running career continued alongside his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He eventually held positions at both hospitals and maintained a private practice on Harley Street. He was obliged to end his running career in 1928, having suffered recurrent stress fractures of the navicular bone in both feet.

It was at St Bartholomew’s and Moorfields that he became interested in retinoblastoma treatment under the mentorship of Mr Robert Foster Moore. Moore pioneered the use of radioactive radon seeds in treating retinoblastomas in children. Stallard improved on this idea, developing focal radiotherapy, applying a radioactive cobalt 60 plaque to the surface of the eye, overlying the tumour, and giving a measured dose of radiation. Thanks to this research, it became possible to save both the lives and the vision of many children with the disease.

His busy career was interrupted in 1939 by the onset of the Second World War. He served first in Cairo, where he performed more than 600 operations on wounded soldiers and civilians, meticulously logging and describing the injuries and treatments, often with carefully drawn illustrations. He somehow found time to run and climb over the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Mr Williams noted.

He was later transferred to Europe, arriving on the beaches of Normandy only days after D-Day, eventually performing eye surgery in France and Belgium. A major in the British Army, he steadfastly refused promotion, fearing he would become more bureaucrat than surgeon.

After the war, he built on his considerable surgical experience, publishing Eye Surgery, the first modern comprehensive guide to eye surgery, which set the standard for ophthalmic surgical training for many years.

The British Journal of Ophthalmology, to which he was a frequent contributor and one-time assistant editor, noted in memoriam: “Stallard’s distinction lay in the quality of his surgical skills and his ability to impart them to others. Every single operation was in fact a research project to be performed as perfectly as possible. He was the complete master. There was a natural reserve, a great humility combined with a high ideal of service and a great compassion which made him an outstanding doctor. [He was] artistic, warm-hearted, and perceptive, with a genial and kindly humour.”2

Stallard is also credited with developing many surgical techniques. As described in a comprehensive article in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, this included “partial cyclectomy and its modifications for iris neoplasia, techniques of eyelid reconstruction and partial transplantation (middle third) of levator palpebrae superioris muscle in patients with superior rectus palsy, management of ocular emergencies, and surgeries for epiphora.”3 He also developed several surgical instruments, including a corneal grafting knife, a ptosis spatula, and a non-magnetic foreign body extractor.

“Henry Stallard was an outstanding athlete and gifted surgeon, a truly remarkable man,” Mr Williams noted. “While he had no children of his own, the hundreds of children throughout the world who had their lives and their sight saved and those who will need our help in the future—they are Stallard’s children.”

Hugh Williams DO, FRCS, FRCOphth is an Honorary Consultant Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London. drhpwilliams@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

1. Museum, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. www. rcophth.ac.uk/about-the-college/museum.

2. Bullock JD, Henry B, Stallard MD. “The 1924 Paris Olympics, and Chariots of Fire,” Survey of Ophthalmology, 2011; 56: 466–71.

3. Mrittika Sen, et al. “Hyla Bristow Stallard: Citius, Altius, Fortius,” Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, 2021 Sep; 69(9), 2252–2255.

Tags: sport, athlete, Olympics, IOC, ocular trauma, injury, eye protection, Paris, Stallard, Henry Stallard
Latest Articles
Rule Number One: Protect the Eyes

Ophthalmologists hold a key role in athlete eye care for all ages and abilities.

Read more...

Olympic Committee Targets Sports-Related Ophthalmic Issues

Collaboration with sports physicians on risk, treatment, and referral advised.

Read more...

The Olympian Ophthalmologist

Henry Stallard’s remarkable career had many milestones.

Read more...

Eye Care Enters the Ring

Risks to retina increase with every punch.

Read more...

Global Vision with a Local Flavour

Debates, dry labs, and surgical trainers to highlight 2024 Congress.

Read more...

Controlling Inflammation after Cataract Surgery

No consensus among leading surgeons regarding whether or how to use a dropless regimen.

Read more...

Weighing the Cornea Ectasia Risks

Athletes should proceed with care with eye protection solutions.

Read more...

New Trifocal IOL Delivers Positive Outcomes

Seven diffractive rings offer full range of vision.

Read more...

Finding a Keratoconus Consensus

Evolving new consensus should help guide diagnosis and management.

Read more...

Ray of a New Dawn in Corneal Infection Research

Will UVC light the way as a potential treatment for microbial keratitis?

Read more...