BY FANNI FRANKL
New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (NYEE) of Mount Sinai celebrated its 200th anniversary last Friday, honoring one of its own doctors, David Kearny McDonogh, a former slave who became the country’s first Black ophthalmology and otolaryngology specialist.
NYEE held a socially distant ceremony on Thursday, unveiling the new portrait of Dr. McDonogh in the waiting room. Daniel Laroche, MD, and his wife Marjorie commissioned and donated the artwork, created by artist Leroy Campbell.
“Dr. David Kearny McDonogh is an American hero who devoted his life to academic and medical excellence and helped to integrate colleges, medical schools, and health care and provide healthcare to all. This is an important legacy to help make the United States a more just and perfect union and an important part of American history,” explained Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Laroche, and cataract and glaucoma surgeon at NYEE.
Dr. McDonogh fought racial injustice in the 1800s to accomplish his goal of practicing medicine. John Kearny Rodgers, a founder of NYEE who Dr. McDonogh met in college, became his mentor and helped him unofficially attend classes at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Despite this, the school refused to give him his medical degree when he would have graduated. In 2018, Richard Koplin, MD, a cornea surgeon at NYEE, led a successful campaign to have Dr. McDonogh’s medical diploma injustice rectified, and Dr. McDonogh’s great-great-granddaughter accepted the posthumous degree on his behalf.
NYEE was founded on Aug. 14, 1820 becoming the first specialty hospital in North America. Starting that same year, the first successful cataract surgeries in the United States were conducted, which restored sight to three pediatric patients. Other milestones include establishing the first Otology Service in New York City and the United States in 1824, launching New York City’s first eye trauma center in 1984 and performing the first series of autologous temporalis fascia transplants to the vocal fold in the United States, which restored patients’ voices, in 2014. NYEE’s Department of Ophthalmology is additionally nationally ranked No. 11 on 2020-2021 U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Hospitals” survey.
“I think this anniversary is a legacy and shows its service and community and the patients and the staff who have embodied an ever-changing commitment in the best of specialty care,” said President of NYEE, Dr. James Tsai, commenting on the significance of the Infirmary’s bicentennial anniversary. “It really feels like a family who is dedicated to tradition. We are privileged to be part of that history to stay the leader in specialty fields.”
NYEE had celebratory events such as dinners, galas and other festive occasions planned now postponed because of COVID-19. Instead, an ice cream truck was called for the staff to enjoy and a cutting of the bicentennial cake was held.