UAB Medicine News


Endowed Chair Established to Honor Callahan Eye Hospital Founder

In his 80s, Alston Callahan, MD, went on an epic sightseeing quest. He walked across Manhattan Island. He swam the Yazoo Canal. He explored Timbuktu. For his 83rd birthday, he visited the North Pole. The following year, he traveled to the South Pole.

Throughout his long career, Callahan was dedicated to another kind of quest. He performed reconstructive eye surgery during World War II, pioneered ophthalmologic plastic surgery, and served as the first chair of the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. In 1963, he founded the Eye Foundation Hospital, the first facility in Alabama dedicated to the care and treatment of the eye.

UAB purchased the hospital in 1997, later renaming it UAB Callahan Eye Hospital. The same year the hospital was purchased, Dr. Callahan – along with his son, Michael Callahan, MD, Loris Rich, and Charles Kelman, MD – founded the Birmingham-based International Retinal Research Foundation. The IRRF is dedicated to furthering research that seeks to cure blinding eye diseases such as macular degeneration. Since 1998, the organization has granted more than $18 million to support scientific research into diseases of the eye.

In memory of Dr. Callahan, who passed away in 2005, and his wife, Eivor, who passed away in 2002, the IRRF has committed a gift to establish the Eivor and Alston Callahan, MD, Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology. “All of us here at the IRRF are excited to endow this chair, not only in Dr. Callahan’s honor but also in honor of his wife and trusted confidant, Eivor, who supplied the support and strength that was needed for such a lifetime of accomplishments,” says IRRF Executive Director Sandra Blackwood.

“When I was growing up, the UAB Callahan Eye Hospital was my dad’s magnificent obsession. Our whole family life centered on the building of the hospital, which now stands as a brick-and-mortar testament to his passion,” says IRRF President Michael Callahan, MD, Dr. Callahan’s son and a professor in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “I thought – and the board agreed with me – that now was the right time to make an advancement in the march to find causes and treatments for blinding conditions by funding an endowed chair in his and my mother’s names. There’s nothing they would be prouder of.”

Dr. Alston Callahan is credited with raising more than $40 million in his lifetime toward providing eye care to Alabamians in need. The effects of Mrs. Callahan’s and his personal philanthropy can be seen across Birmingham. They bequeathed a large collection of Asian art to the Birmingham Museum of Art and helped fund its annual Eivor and Alston Callahan Lecture Series, which focuses on Asian art. Dr. Callahan also was the driving force behind acquiring “Complex Vision,” the kinetic sculpture by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam that adorns the facade of UAB Callahan Eye Hospital.

“We are immensely grateful for the longtime support of the IRRF,” says Christopher Girkin, MD, the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “Over the years, it has enabled us to fund an array of innovative research of blinding diseases. Now, the Eivor and Alston Callahan, MD, Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology will help us attract more world-class researchers to join our nationally ranked program, and it will honor the memory of Dr. and Mrs. Callahan for generations of faculty to come.”

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