Jay Farbman

Dr. Harry S. Brown, the founder of SEE International, died on April 16 at the age of 86, the organization announced. His nonprofit was among the early providers of relatively simple and free surgeries to prevent blindness and restore sight around the world.

After finishing his residency at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, Brown became a traveling doctor, taking his family and mother with him to Johannesburg, South Africa; North Gujarat, India; and Kabul, Afghanistan. Those travels exposed him to the great need for eye care, and he saw the ripple effect that blindness had on families and the community. After Brown moved to Santa Barbara in 1971 and started a private practice, he founded Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International in 1974, which has since then provided vision care to more than 3.8 million people, including surgeries for cataracts — the cause of half the world’s cases of blindness — glaucoma, and early diabetic retinopathy. SEE estimates its doctors have restored sight to about half a million people.

A patient whispers to Dr. Harry S. Brown in SEE's earlier days.

“One of the things he will always be remembered for is providing sight worldwide,” his son Kelly Brown said. “He helped others who didn’t have the resources and made them functioning members of their community again.”

In Santa Barbara, the group has held eye clinics two to three times a week for low-income individuals since the 1980s.

Brown has been honored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology for his humanitarian work; recognized in the U.S. House of Representatives and by his alma mater, George Washington University; Rotary, Lions, and other service organizations; and the American College of Surgeons. The SEE-sponsored lecture by Brown’s friend and fellow ophthalmologist Dr. Helena Ndume at the Lobero Theatre on April 29 will include a remembrance for Dr. Brown.


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