Services Planned for Dr. Newton K. Wesley, 93, Contact Lens Pioneer

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CHICAGO—Newton K. Wesley, OD, MD, ScD, PhD, age 93, died July 21 of congestive heart failure in Freeport, Ill., an announcement said. Wesley was a contact lens pioneer, lecturer, writer, educator, clinician and inventor. He created solutions for his keratoconus that led to his development and manufacturing of contact lenses and is often cited for inventing the first commercially successful rigid contact lens in the 1950s.

Born Newton Uyesugi to immigrant Japanese parents in Westport, Ore., he graduated high school at age 16. His worsening vision sent him on a quest for a cure after being told by eye doctors that he would be blind. He found that the large glass contact lenses made from molds to the eye restored normal sight, but were almost intolerable to wear for more than a short period of time. In 1939, he graduated from what is today Pacific College of Optometry. Dr. Wesley had an optometric practice in Portland, OR. When his former professor Dr. Harry Lee Fording asked him to buy and operate what was then North Pacific College of Optometry, he did with his friend and colleague Dr. Roy Clunes, Wesley remained involved with the school by being on the Board of Trustees for a number of years.

World War II, however, interrupted Wesley's life as his wife and two sons were sent to war relocation camps. He was allowed to relocate to the Midwest, having to leave his family behind at the Minadoka Internment Camp in Idaho, to study chemistry at Earlham College in Indiana. At the end of the war, Wesley relocated his family to Chicago, where he saw patients and taught at Monroe College of Optometry, what is today the Illinois College of Optometry. He began working on the development of smaller plastic contact lenses in an apartment basement with his former optometry student George Jessen. These lenses allowed longer and more comfortable wearing times than existing glass lenses. This led them to form the Plastic Contact Lens Company (1946), which became Wesley-Jessen, Inc., which was bought by Schering Plough in 1980 and is now owned by CIBA Vision. They also formed the Jessen-Wesley eye clinic in Chicago. Wesley continued training doctors in fitting contact lenses through founding the National Eye Research Foundation that held national and regional meetings.

Early in his career, Wesley helped get the Doctor of Optometry degree recognized nationally and later was instrumental in getting the words “contact lenses” into the dictionary. Wesley learned to fly a plane in order to make his regional lectures and training sessions on contact lenses available to as many doctors as he could. He also trained doctors in Europe and Asia and assisted many in developing contact lens practices.

Memorial services will be held at August 20, 2011 in Rockford, IL.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a favorite charity or the Fund of the National Eye Research Foundation, 1105 W. Chicago Av, Suite 201 Chicago IL 60622.