Alston Callahan, MD was an established pioneer of ophthalmic plastic surgery, having been thrust into the forefront of reconstructive surgery of the eyes during World War II. As chief of the ophthalmology service at Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of the five United States General Hospitals that were designated as eye centers, he expanded the existing medical practices in this area, and in 1960 established a preceptorship in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery.
After discharge from the military, Dr. Callahan became the first chairman of the department of ophthalmology of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Medical School and remained a key factor in the delivery of eye health for Alabamians by founding and developing the Eye Foundation Hospital in Birmingham in 1963. It was the first facility in the State of Alabama that was totally equipped and dedicated to the care and treatment of the eye. Concerned that all patients should receive the best eye care available, regardless of their ability to pay, Callahan initiated a partnership with the Alabama Lions Clubs to provide this care to the indigent of the State. As a fundraiser, Callahan was unsurpassed, being personally credited for raising over $40 million to provide eye care to Alabama and the surrounding region.
Shortly after UAB purchased the Eye Foundation Hospital in 1997, the University trustees voted to honor Dr. Callahan by naming the facility The Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital in recognitioon of the tremendous energy he poured into his dream of establishing a world-class eye center. It was at this time in his life (age 86) that Callahan, along with Charles D. Kelman, MD, co-founded the International Retinal Research Foundation, a Birmingham-based public foundation committed to the funding of targeted research efforts into the diseases of the eye, with emphasis on discovering the causes, preventions, and cures of macular degeneration.
A man of diverse talents and interests, Callahan was a world traveler who took great pleasure in visiting foreign and out-of-the way places in search of new cultures and learning how they expressed themselves through art. In his later years, he began commemorating birthdays with a special event or trip. At 80, he swam the Yazoo Canal, and at 81 walked across Manhattan Island. In the same year that he completed a grueling trip to Timbuktu, he decided to travel on a Russian icebreaker to the North Pole to celebrate his 83rd birthday; the next year, it was the South Pole. (At right, Callahan ‘on the ice’ at the South Pole, age 84.)
Dr. Callahan’s many accomplishments go hand-in-hand with his devotion to his family, loyalty to his friends, and love of life. His spirit of caring benefited us all, and we are grateful.