Foundation News

2020 ASCRS Foundation Chang Humanitarian Award: Lowell Gess, MD

The ASCRS Foundation announces Lowell A. Gess, MD as the 2020 Chang Humanitarian Award Recipient

Ophthalmologist Lowell A. Gess, who celebrates his 99th birthday today (July 13, 2020), is the 3rd annual recipient of the ASCRS Foundation's Chang Humanitarian Award. With the cancellation of the 2020 ASCRS Annual Meeting in Boston, we were unable to recognize Dr. Gess’ life’s work during the opening general session. So the Foundation has instead chosen to honor and celebrate Dr. Gess virtually among our membership on his birthday. Click below to view his interview with Dr. Chang immediately following the ASCRS Virtual meeting.

Dr. Lowell A. Gess has been devoted to humanitarian care for over 50 years, having performed more than 20,000 eye and general surgery procedures for the underserved. In the 1950’s, Lowell Gess was a missionary and general surgeon in Sierra Leone after graduating from Washington University School of Medicine. He discovered his true passion when he continually encountered blind people in desperate need of care. At the time, there were no ophthalmologists in the entire country.

When he realized that cataract surgery could restore vision to so many blind patients, he decided to change careers. He pursued and completed an ophthalmology residency at the University of Minnesota and post-graduate training at Harvard. During this time, Dr. Gess frequently interrupted his ophthalmic training in the United States with charitable missions to Sierra Leone. After completing his training, he and his family moved to Sierra Leone to serve this population so desperately in need of full-time eye care. Eventually, Dr. Gess and his wife, with support from the United Methodist Church and private donations, were able to establish the Lowell and Ruth Gess (Kissy UMC) Eye Hospital to serve the ophthalmic needs of the region.

Dr. Gess eventually returned to Minnesota where he was in private practice for nearly 3 decades. Despite the demands of his busy practice, he regularly took 3 months off every year to return to Sierra Leone to provide eye care and to train local ophthalmologists. Dr. Gess has earmarked the $50,000 award for the Lowell and Ruth Gess Eye Hospital to help expand facilities and eye care programs in Sierra Leone.

When the Ebola epidemic struck, Dr. Gess returned to Sierra Leone at the age of 93, serving as the only fully-trained ophthalmologist attending to Ebola survivors. His third and most recent trip to help Ebola survivors was last summer – at the age of 98! Dr. Gess wrote Ebola’s Den, published in 2015, to recount his experiences during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Foretelling the COVID pandemic, he wrote at the time: “There was a wake-up call to the world that an epidemic in Africa could become pandemic and disperse disease and death to other continents. There is a saying: ‘Outbreaks are inevitable. Pandemics are optional.” All countries can be vulnerable to remote places because of airplanes circling the globe”.

With over 50 years in charitable care as a commissioned medical missionary and volunteer eye surgeon, Dr. Gess has crossed the ocean nearly 200 times to serve the people of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and 11 other countries around the world. Until retiring, Dr Gess was a loyal ASCRS member, having joined the American Intra-Ocular Implant Society (the original name of what is now ASCRS) in just its second year. His son, and 3 of his grandchildren are ophthalmologists and ASCRS members.  

ASCRS Foundation Chang Humanitarian Award
Endowed by a generous gift from David & Victoria Chang, the ASCRS Foundation Chang Humanitarian Award was established to honor and recognize outstanding humanitarian work in the area of cataract blindness. The recipient is recognized at the ASCRS Annual Meeting and a $50,000 prize is awarded in their honor to a charitable ophthalmology organization of their choice. The nomination period for the 2021 Award will open in August 2020. Information is available on our website.


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