With An Idea Found in Vietnam, Torrington Doctor Saves Eyesight
Author: Sally Vanderpoel
Publication: Star-Tribune, Casper, WY March 31, 1974
TORRINGTON – “Dear Dr. Morgan, If you come to MPLS, Please come and see me so I can shake your hand. Love, Brian.”
Honors and acclaim have come to Torrington’s Dr. Loran B. Morgan, ophthalmologist, but Brian’s letter represents the ultimate in personal satisfaction. Fan mail is a daily occurrence in the office of Torrington’s “medicine man” since his invention of a relatively simple device which aids in the healing of an injured or diseased eye.
The Morgan Therapeutic Lens was developed to meet a need Dr. Morgan recognized during one of his four tours of duty in Vietnam as part of the American Medical Association’s Volunteer Physicians for Vietnam Program.
Conditions in Vietnam produce a wide range of serious illness among the civilian population. Disease and war share equally in their contribution to the suffering of children and adults.
Dr. Morgan discovered the less-than-sterile conditions under which he was having to work often resulted in postoperative infection. Taking the ideas of two “commonly accepted methods” of irrigating the eye he molded a lens to completely cover each eye, punctured a hole (chimney he calls it) in the lens, inserted a tube leading to a bottle of fluid, and the invention was almost complete.
At first he molded the lens for each sick eye but soon he realized that a standard mold would fit because the lens floats on a cushion of fluid, never touching the eye itself.
“The ideal treatment for eye injury or disease,” Dr. Morgan says, “is to have someone constantly dropping medicine into the eye. The old fashioned eye cup provided some relief, it was filled with a solution and tipped over the eye.”
“The trouble with that,” Dr. Morgan adds, “was there was one good washing and from then on there was rewashing in the same old dirty fluid.”
The therapeutic lens is a continuous bath, running all the time with clean, sterile fluid, usually Lactated Ringer’s Solution, sometimes properly medicated.
It doesn’t have to be used by a doctor although it usually is. Some industries have ordered Dr. Morgan’s lens to have on hand for accidents involving chemicals or debris in workers’ eyes.
“The fluid keeps the eye cool and moist and continually washes out bacteria, dead cells, or whatever foreign matter may have caused injury to the eye,” Dr. Morgan explained.
Patients are grateful to Dr. Morgan for what seems to them like “a miracle” as Shirley Canfield’s mother puts it.
“We all gave up hope,” Mrs. Canfield said the Star-Tribune interviewed her, “we had Shirley clear out in California, all over and the doctors said, “forget it” we were over in Wyoming visiting my ‘Ma’ and we saw this in the paper. About this new invention Dr. Morgan had. We thought, “Well, this is our last resort.” And sure as heck it worked.”
Shirley’s life is broader now over four years later. The family lived in Phoenix and Shirley’s Christmas card in 1973 said, “I hope this Christmas season brings you cheer! I’m enjoying school hear (sic) in Phoenix. Thank you again for helping me in life. God bless you always, Shirley Canfield.”
Shirley had suffered a rare immune reaction to treatment by penicillin four years before Dr. Morgan saw her. She had lost all sight, her eyes were tearless and drying up as an egg white dries when left in an open saucer. Shirley could not go to school because she could not see; her discomfort was so great that when Dr. Morgan inserted the therapeutic lens in his patient. She didn’t want to take it out. “Just leave it there.” Shirley said, “I’ll go home this way.” Before that the only relief she could get from the discomfort was to keep her eyes closed. Shirley has spent four years with her eyes shut.
Shirley’s mother says, “Shirley rides her bike now, where it had been taken away from her long before she saw Dr. Morgan, and swims. “She swims with her contact lens, and it doesn’t bother her a bit.”
It is Brian’s letter that begins this story. As the Fourth of July approached several years ago, Brian decided the gunpowder his older brother used for loading his antique muzzle loading guns might make a loud “bang” for the celebration. He put about two cups in a mayonnaise jar and placed a match over it.
“It went ‘poof’,” Mrs. Novacek, Brian’s mother said, ” and I found this boy lying in the back yard that way. It looked like somebody had poured hot tar over him. I didn’t know what had happened to him.”
In the hospital the Minneapolis ophthalmologist inserted Dr. Morgan’s therapeutic lens for 17 hours. It washed away the deeply embedded gunpowder and other foreign matter, prevented infection, and today Brian scarcely remembers the incident.
“He was so young, only seven at the time,” his mother said. “They don’t comprehend things like that. You can’t imagine how quickly his face and eyes cleared up, his skin; a picture of him two and a half months later shows it. There was an article in a medical journal about Brian.
“I told our ophthalmologist, ‘That’s what peanut butter sandwiches does for you’ because that boy lives on peanut butter,” Mrs. Novacek laughed with joy for their good fortune.
“I’ve never met Dr. Morgan but I’d certainly like to,” Mrs. Novacek said, “He’s truly a gifted person. I think that a person like that has this gift. It’s remarkable that they are willing to use it so freely. I feel that he is a deeply religious person.”
Each day other people all over the world are helped to gain sight through the use of the Morgan Therapeutic Lens. It seems unbelievable that a major medical discovery could be made by an ordinary man from a small Wyoming town.
Of course, Dr. Morgan is no “ordinary” man. Loran Brown Morgan, a banker’s son, was born in Pipestone, Minn. He always knew he would be a doctor. After graduation from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine he began internship March 1943 at St. Luke’s Hospital, Denver. In December of that year he was called to duty as a First Lieutenant in the Medical Corps where he served with the paratroops.
It was January 19, 1944 at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., that he married a graduate nurse, Beth Ashburn, whom he had met at St. Luke’s. Beth’s home was Torrington, Wyo.
After the war Dr. Morgan practiced general medicine in Torrington and he is as the old joke goes, “responsible for a lot of the babies” in the community. In the late 1950’s he decided to specialized and returned to Minnesota for the three years of ophthalmology.
His practice in Torrington is busy. Some patients complain that it takes four months to get an appointment with him, but that is an exaggeration. Emergencies are treated at once, just as any doctor handles things.
Dr. Morgan still has a questing manner, seeking more information, trying to be better.
When asked just how his method works he said, “Mostly what I think I do is put the eye in a state of rest. It’s a comfortable cool media, with flowing solutions and the eye heals itself. That’s what I think I’m doing.” He uses the lens to prepare eyes for cataract and other surgery as well as in diseases, injuries and postoperative situations.
Dr. Morgan talks about his Vietnam experience in the village of Vinh Long. “It’s easy for me to say why I went back to Vietnam the second, third and fourth times. After experience there it is hard to remember just why I went in the first place.”
“It was probably prompted by my nephew being shot down. The AMA clinic started nine or ten months after that. The family still knows nothing of my nephew’s fate. It was like 1966 when he radioed he was going down to take a look at a submarine.
“There is so much good to be done in 60 days [the term of voluntary service]. I don’t know of any other place in the world you could do that much good in that short a time.
“Before I forget to tell you,” he said to the Star-Tribune interviewer, “I realized at that time, and I always will that it is a great privilege to have done this. I know some people who would go in a minute if there were any type of program for them to fit in – lawyers, pharmacists, nurses
The nursing program for volunteers was a year and a half, which is inhumane, you know. All we did all day long was put people back together, civilians that had been shot up by the Communists. And at the same time we were reading in the papers how the American’s were shooting up everybody.
“The Communist attacks were ambushes at night, mostly mortar, sometimes artillery and all kinds of booby traps and mines, land mines. We’d separate the eye patients from the others. Once in a while when the GP would get tired I would go back to my old specialty: feel the tummies, treat the worms, and the pneumonia, tuberculosis, and the leprosy and the cholera.
“I saw all these things that had always been words to me in examination questions. I was walking along with Pat Smith, the famous doctor who lived among the Montagnards for 10 or more years and barely escaped with her life not long ago, and I said, ‘Pat, look at that guy over there.’ His eye was bulging like I had never seen. She said, ‘That’s a leprosy of the 7th cranial nerve,’ and kept right on walking.
“All day long in the villages we were puncturing buboes and making a smear to diagnose bubonic plague. I went up to help Pat Smith learn how to do some special eye surgery, but when I got there a village had had 300 of its members burned by the Viet Cong and I spent days helping to treat those burns. We didn’t have time to have any courses in surgery of the eye.”
Dr. Morgan’s own quarters were blown up in broad daylight one day. Fortunately he was not there.
“We can’t bring ourselves to call him “Bud”, we respect him too much,” Gloria Bays, the mother of young Karen Bays said. Karen is another patient helped by Dr. Morgan’s delicate surgery and the use of the lens. “We feel like he’s almost part of the family,” she continued, “I wouldn’t call President Nixon “Richard” and even though others call him “Bud” or “Doc” we always call him Dr. Morgan.”
Karen attended a school for the visually handicapped before and after she was treated by Dr. Morgan for the rare Stevens-Johnson syndrome, the same condition as Shirley Canfield,
Karen had had surgery at least four times before her parents read a newspaper article about Shirley Canfield. Karen’s vision is still only partial but her mother’s Christmas card said, ” Karen sure enjoys life with some vision. She is so busy at school she hasn’t time for us! (almost) We will forever by grateful.”
Dr. Morgan has been awarded membership in the contact lens society after presenting the Kevin Touhy Memorial lecture in San Diego in 1973. The Wyoming American Legion has cited him “in recognition of his service to his country and mankind in the field of the unsighted.”
He was chosen the 1973 Civil Servant of the Year of South Dakota West for his service in the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Hot Springs.
It was 1970 when he reported his initial success with the therapeutic lens at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Las Vegas. At the 1971 meeting of the Academy at Tulane University he heard another specialist report the Morgan Lens as “the method” for treating infection. He has been a member of the guest faculty at the University of California, he is currently a lecturer on the faculty of the University of Nebraska in “microsurgery.” He has reported to medical societies on his treatment methods.
But the mail continues, the prayerful letters hoping for help come from everywhere to the country doctor. Honors among one’s peers are prized and respected but treasures are in the letters.
“Dear Dr. Morgan, I just read the story of how you restored sight to young Karen Bays. I am a convict at Colorado State Prison, Canon City, I am 29 years old and I haven’t really done any real good in my life, if I could help some young or older person to see by donating one of my eyes I would sure do it. Please let me know.”