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New Book Chronicles the Career of Steve Charles, MD

Dr. Charles has shaped the course of modern retina surgery.

When best-selling author and political commentator James C. Moore experienced a retinal detachment in his right eye, he was confident that his local retina specialist in Austin, Texas, could fix the problem quickly. However, after 4 years and a variety of failed corrective procedures accompanied by grueling and disappointing recoveries, he was growing increasingly afraid and desperate.

Finally, someone told him that he had to see Dr. Steve Charles in Memphis, the noted clinician, inventor, and innovator whose achievements in advancing retina surgery are legendary within the retina community. A late-night email to Dr. Charles brought an immediate response from the doctor and an invitation to come to Memphis right away. Though the sight in his eye could not be restored, meeting with Dr. Charles and learning of his numerous accomplishments brought out the journalist in Moore, who soon decided that Charles’ remarkable career should be celebrated in a book. The resulting soon-to-be released book, “Give Back the Light: A Doctor's Relentless Struggle to End Blindness” (Greenleaf Press) balances Moore’s compelling personal struggles as a patient with descriptions of Dr. Charles’ prodigious technical achievements in retina surgery. Moore does a masterful job of melding a touchingly personal story with a great deal of highly technical content, not an easy task for even an experienced writer.

Dr. Charles, now 75, comes across as a driven surgeon and inventor — a man without hobbies, who doesn’t take vacations or pursue other outside interests except for piloting his own plane. He doesn’t seem to care about money (he treats many patients for free) and essentially lives to solve the most complex surgical problems. He is also a dedicated and involved father to his three daughters, two of whom have become physicians.

A primary thread in the book is Moore’s fervent desire to return to playing baseball in his senior league, where he has excelled even into his early 60s. After a number of practices, he decides that facing 80-mile-an-hour fastballs is not worth risking the sight in his good left eye and he reluctantly bids that aspect of his life goodbye.

Woven into the narrative is the story of the discovery of VEGF and the resulting blockbuster anti-VEGF drugs Lucentis (Genentech) and Eylea (Regeneron), which along with off-label Avastin, have restored vision to millions of individuals afflicted retinal disease.