Alan S. Crandall, MD, 1947–2020
Source: Geoff Tabin, MD
Many of Dr. Crandall’s friends and colleagues specifically remembered this picture of him.
Source: Moran Eye Center/Flickr
Dr. Crandall with his wife, Julie
Source: Moran Eye Center/Flickr
Dr. Crandall on a mission trip a couple of years ago in Tanzania
Source: Moran Eye Center/Flickr
Dr. Crandall sat among the luggage while on a mission trip. In a similar situation, a phaco machine once fell on him, causing him to fracture one of the vertebrae in his neck.
He continued the mission work and sought care when he returned home.
Source: Moran Eye Center/Flickr
Alan S. Crandall, MD, passed away on Oct. 2, 2020, due to a sudden illness. Dr. Crandall, 73, served as ASCRS President from 2009–2010, and was an inaugural member of the ASCRS Glaucoma Clinical Committee formed in 1997.
He was the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and served as director of the glaucoma and cataract divisions at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition to his 39 years at Moran, he was a glaucoma and cataract surgery specialist at The Eye Institute of Utah.
Dr. Crandall was the Founder and Senior Medical Director of Moran’s Global Outreach Division. He also worked with the Himalayan Cataract Project. For his commitment to humanitarian eyecare, Dr. Crandall was recognized with the inaugural ASCRS Foundation Chang Humanitarian Award in 2018. In October, the ASCRS Foundation announced this was being renamed as the Chang-Crandall Humanitarian Award in his honor. Dr. Crandall was recognized by several other organizations for his work as well.
Dr. Crandall graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine, completed his internship at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and held his residency and fellowship in ophthalmology at the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He returned to join the University of Utah’s faculty in 1981. Dr. Crandall was a diplomat of the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Board of Ophthalmology.
He is survived by his wife, Julie, his children, stepchildren, and siblings.
‘Wanted us to do what made us happy’
David Crandall, MD, said seeing his father’s genuine love for patients, colleagues, staff, residents, and fellows helped him decide his own career path.
“When I started med school, I was unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up. Dad never brought it up; he never put any pressure on me to follow in his footsteps. He always wanted us to do what made us happy,” Dr. David Crandall said.
Ultimately going into ophthalmology, Dr. David Crandall said it was comforting to know he had great ‘phone-a-friend’ help when he needed it, someone with whom to discuss difficult cases and plan upcoming cases.
“It meant so much to me when I had progressed to the point that he asked for my opinion on cases,” Dr. David Crandall said.
Dr. David Crandall acknowledged his father’s outreach work and said some of the most fun he had with him was operating on these trips.
“Whenever anyone asked him when he was going to retire, the answer was always, ‘When I stop having fun.’”
‘Willing to subjugate his own pain to help others’
The first time Randall Olson, MD, heard
Dr. Crandall’s name was in 1964 at a high school football game. Dr. Olson’s school had
a powerhouse football team that somehow was scheduled to play a small, Catholic high school team.
“This wasn’t going to be a game of defeat, this was going to be an annihilation,” Dr. Olson said during a livestreamed celebration hosted by Moran.
Dr. Crandall played QB for the underdog team and, low and behold, David beat Goliath in this game, Dr. Olson said.
“Little did I know how much our paths were going to cross over the years going forward,” he added.
Dr. Olson went on to remember stories of Dr. Crandall’s, at times, superhuman strength. There is a frequently told story about the time Dr. Crandall broke his neck (for the third time) when a phaco machine fell on him as a van on a bumpy road in Africa hit a rut; he sought care only after his mission work was complete 2 weeks later. He also remembered the time Dr. Crandall scheduled his knee surgery under local anesthesia so he could return to clinic afterward to finish seeing patients.
“He wanted to help out, he was always willing to subjugate his own pain to help others,” Dr. Olson said.
Dr. Olson said the thing he’ll miss most is Dr. Crandall’s heart. “It didn’t matter who you were, it didn’t matter what your position was … he was friendly and open to everyone, and that never changed,” Dr. Olson said.
‘Willing to do anything asked of him by ASCRS’
Dr. Crandall was “always working hard and willing to do anything asked of him by ASCRS,” said Nick Mamalis, MD, citing his service as president, on the Executive Committee, on the Glaucoma Clinical Committee, and as a member of the pre-ASCRS American Intraocular Implant Society.
Dr. Mamalis met Dr. Crandall 39 years ago when he was a third-year medical student; Dr. Crandall was a new faculty member. One of the most special things about him, Dr. Mamalis said, was his teaching ability.
“He would take the residents and would mold them into good surgeons,” Dr. Mamalis said, noting that Dr. Crandall began taping surgery for teaching before such recording was popular.
“He had several sayings: ‘It’s physics” and “The video doesn’t lie.’ … I think Alan was responsible for training an entire generation of residents and fellows to be outstanding surgeons. That’s one of his main legacies.”
This emphasis on teaching extended to his humanitarian work, too.
“He wasn’t just going to places in need and doing surgery on these humanitarian trips. … He really was involved in the training of ophthalmologists in the developing world, and I think that’s going to be another of his legacies,” Dr. Mamalis said.
On a personal note, Dr. Mamalis described how he and Dr. Crandall had offices two doors away from each other at Moran, but their schedules rarely aligned and they saw little of each other there.
“But when we would travel internationally, Alan and I really hit it off. We became travel partners around the world,” he said. “I’m not only going to miss Alan professionally. I’m going to miss his teaching and innovation, but I’m also going to miss being with him at meetings all over the world.”
‘He was a bit of a maverick’
There’s a picture of Dr. Crandall going down a dirt path in his scrubs holding hands with a Sudanese boy as they walk away through the village.
“This is an iconic photo that says everything you need to know about Alan Crandall,” said Samuel Masket, MD.
Not having the chance to do humanitarian work with him, Dr. Masket said, is his one misgiving from their 35-year friendship. However, they did get to publish a textbook together in 1999.
Dr. Masket began his friendship with Dr. Crandall in the 1980s when they were brought together to teach phacoemulsification courses around the country. Dr. Crandall was “a bit of a maverick in the glaucoma community,” Dr. Masket said, because he was the first to recognize that phacoemulsification and its small incision were integral in glaucoma management.
“Traditional large incision cataract surgery interfered with what was glaucoma surgery at that time … filtering surgery was all we had,” Dr. Masket explained, adding later “Alan revolutionized the relationship between glaucoma and cataract surgery.”
Another thing Dr. Masket said Dr. Crandall should be remembered for is a winter meeting that was held in Park City, Utah. Though its name changed over the years, Dr. Masket said many referred to it as “Alan’s meeting.” A few years ago, a lecture at this meeting was established in his honor.
Outside of ophthalmology, Dr. Masket said his family and Dr. Crandall’s enjoyed skiing and fishing together. He viewed Dr. Crandall as the brother he never had.
“I’m sure I’m not alone in that because Alan was easy to be with and he always treated people with respect.”
‘Alan held so many of our hands’
Legendary surgical skills. Devoted. The embodiment of the word “kind.” One of the nicest people in ophthalmology … and one of the craziest. These are just a few words Geoff Tabin, MD, used to describe Dr. Crandall.
While on humanitarian missions, Dr. Tabin, who worked with Dr. Crandall in developing countries and at Moran, said Dr. Crandall would operate from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Then he would help the nurses clean up.
“When everyone was finished and floors swept, he would break out the first of several Star beers,” Dr. Tabin remembered.
One trip to South Sudan was particularly difficult, but Dr. Crandall didn’t see it that way.
“We struggled with a failing generator, shortened fornixes, corneas clouded by trachoma and climactic dystrophy, hypermature cataracts, pseudoexfoliation, and operating in shorts and scrub tops with no gown due to the heat. Biting insects swarmed […] and bats raced through the air, feasting on the flies,” Dr. Tabin recalled. “That night, over rice, beans, and iodinated water, Alan said sincerely, ‘That was the best day of surgery of my life. I have never seen so many difficult cases and people with such needs!’”
According to Dr. Tabin, Dr. Crandall never passed on an opportunity to teach, to share, or experience everything in life. Some of these things included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro 3 months post-hip replacement, completing Park City’s Tour des Suds on a hybrid city bike, a father/son rowing trip through the Grand Canyon, jumping off Havasu Falls in Arizona, and becoming a minister online to marry several friends, including Dr. Tabin and his wife.
“Alan Crandall was present in the moment, all the time. One of my favorite pictures is from South Sudan where Alan is holding a small child’s hand, walking him home. In his too short but amazingly full life, Alan held so many of our hands, brought joy to our journeys through life, and helped us reach where we needed to go.”
‘Loved by everyone who knew him’
Robert Cionni, MD, described Dr. Crandall as “the only person I’ve ever known who was loved by everyone who knew him.”
Likewise, Dr. Cionni continued, Dr. Crandall also loved and cared for those who came into his life “regardless of who they were, where they came from, their political views, religious beliefs, or life choices.”
Dr. Cionni recognized the “unwavering commitment to curing preventable blindness” that Dr. Crandall shared with his wife, Julie.
“His commitment to training surgeons here and abroad filled every hour of his every day. Through his efforts, he left this world a better place for so many,” Dr. Cionni said.
According to Dr. Cionni, Dr. Crandall was a man who didn’t shy away from new experiences, whether they be surgical challenges or those outside of work.
“Ride a poorly suited bike on a grueling mountain bike race, climb a mountain despite numerous joint and neck surgeries, forge a fast-moving river to get to a better fishing spot, he never hesitated to say ‘Sure, let’s do it,’” Dr. Cionni said. “Alan was a close friend. My family considered him a brother. We miss him terribly, but we are comforted knowing that he lived life as he wanted.”
‘Humble and approachable by all’
Robert Osher, MD, said his friendship with Dr. Crandall began in the early 1980s as they were both on the original faculty of a video symposium. “While he was the quiet one in the group, he was always the most experienced,” Dr. Osher recalled.
Dr. Osher described Dr. Crandall as a gifted surgeon who traveled the world sharing his expertise.
“He was also a bona fide innovator, the glaucoma surgeon who first adopted small incision cataract surgery. And his support for his younger colleagues […] was truly inspiring,” Dr. Osher said.
Dr. Osher remembered Dr. Crandall as humble and approachable by all, staying long after courses they taught were done to answer attendees’ questions.
“Alan was warm, kind, selfless, and a man of total integrity. He was a consummate gentleman, an ambassador, and a man good to the core. I will miss teaching and laughing with Alan. I will miss his friendship, his smile, his grace. Ophthalmology has lost one of our most respected and treasured colleagues,” Dr. Osher said.
‘Opened my eyes to what we can accomplish’
Iqbal “Ike” Ahmed, MD, remembered coming from a conservative, “fairly rote type” of residency to the opposite in fellowship with Dr. Crandall who was open to innovation, creativity, and thinking outside the box.
“He totally opened my eyes to what we can accomplish as clinicians and surgeons,” he said.
All of Dr. Crandall’s accolades, surgical prowess, humanitarian giving was done in a quiet way, Dr. Ahmed said.
“To have the success in everything he had accomplished and to be so unassuming, so humble … he defines the ideal form of humanity,” Dr. Ahmed continued.
Dr. Ahmed also described Dr. Crandall as having a can-do attitude and the ability to “will people to get better; he willed people to learn.”
“I know it’s not evidence based, but the power of positive thinking, there is something to it. Whether it’s placebo or not, it’s a very powerful way to heal and bring people together. That power is something that he had.”
‘A life enthusiastically and fully lived’
Dictionaries should include a picture of Alan under their definition of “humanitarian,” said Roger Furlong, MD. Outreach work with Dr. Crandall and his wife, Julie, Dr. Furlong said, helped make him into a better, more complete person.
“When it came to helping those in need, Alan was the first to start working in the morning, refuse offers to break/eat/drink all day, and still be the one to agree to keep going into the dark hours as long as one more person was sitting in the queue. His stamina was unreal … and it was all done quietly with a warm smile,” Dr. Furlong said.
Dr. Furlong described Dr. Crandall as a “volatile mixture of adventurous and fearless” that drove him toward amazing, fulfilling, and at times crazy endeavors.
“We enjoyed scenic and remote fishing trips with Alan, and he hiked to many places that his titanium-augmented chassis had no business going. Despite that, he was never the last one down the trail or back to camp,” Dr. Furlong said, adding later, “As the saying goes, if your life is a car, you don’t want to return it in mint condition with low miles and no scratches. Alan took that to heart and brought his baby in sliding across the finish line sideways, tires smoking, hubcaps flying, and front quarter panel caved in. A life enthusiastically and fully lived.”
‘Always acknowledge others’
“Dr. Crandall was a giant in the field of ophthalmology. For me he was a mentor, friend, and a global outreach partner,” said Susan MacDonald, MD. “We all need someone who inspires us to be better than we know how, and he was that person for thousands of people.
“He taught me to be meticulous with my surgery, to keep my mind quiet to improve my surgical and clinical judgment,” Dr. MacDonald said. “He taught me how to lead from within, to always acknowledge others and the contributions they were making. Working hard during outreach was not enough; we also needed to develop friendships, support our team, and celebrate our work.
“I know many of us hear him every time we operate, but we can also feel his love when we do his work to help the poor and reduce preventable cataract blindness. When you feel the joy of another person’s restored sight, you will feel Alan.”