Olga Maria Ferrer: Making the retina picturesque : Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

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Women in Ophthalmology

Olga Maria Ferrer: Making the retina picturesque

Bansal, Rolika; Spivey, Bruce E1; Honavar, Santosh G

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doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_2171_22
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The critical question is not “How can I achieve?” but “What can I contribute?” – Peter F. Drucker

Imaging and lasers have revolutionized ophthalmology over the last few decades, taking retinal diagnosis and management to a platform one couldn’t have imagined several generations ago. A legend whose name should be highlighted and placed well in the history of retinal imaging and lasers is Dr. Olga Maria Ferrer.

Olga Maria Ferrer was born in Cuba on August 10, 1918. Her ancestors were descendants from a Scottish lord, Ausias Ferrer and were physicians in the Spanish Monastery of Poblet[1] for centuries. Her father Dr. Horacio Ferrer was a colonel in the Cuban Army and one of the first physicians in Cuba to focus on ophthalmology. He participated in academics both in the United States of America (USA) as well as in Havana including hosting several international conferences. Olga Maria Ferrer’s high school education was completed in her native country- Cuba. She obtained her bachelor of science degree from Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore in 1938. Her interest in medicine led her to pursue her medical degree at the University of Maryland, where she completed her first year of medical school, followed by earning the title of Dr. Olga Ferrer by completing her course at the University of Havana in August 1943. She received her degree in Ophthalmology from the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University. She was the eldest of the five daughters of Dr. Horacio Ferrer and she went on to follow her father’s footsteps.

She married Dr. Alfred Lee Sklar (professor of physics at the University of Miami) in Havana on May 21, 1944. Dr. Olga Maria Ferrer Paisan de Sklar and Dr. Alfred Lee Sklar [Fig. 1] were blessed with three children. In 1958, she became a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. She was a devoted Cuban patriot, but had to protest against the communistic control in 1960, which was a difficult phase for her family as well as her career. In April 1960, the family fled the communism in Cuba and she was granted honorary citizenship to the USA in 1961, through an intervention by several congressmen and AAO leaders who wrote petitions for expediting the process.[2] She was offered the position of associate professor in Ophthalmology at the University of Miami, Florida in July 1960. She became a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and received the honor award of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 1961.[1]

Figure 1:
Dr. Olga Maria Ferrer Paisan de Sklar and Dr. Alfred Lee Sklar in 1986. (Courtesy – Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar)

On arrival to Miami, Drs Olga and Alfred brought along with them the first ever fundus camera which became the first fundus camera at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.[3] She worked extensively on exploring newer imaging techniques and treatment modalities. Her seminal research led to ground-breaking work on Fluorescein fundus photography[45] thus helping in capturing and studying retinal circulation times.[6] She added to the work done by Novotny and Alvis[7]; Oberhoff et al.[8] and Dr. Hickam by describing the normal and pathological patterns of fluorescein angiography.[9] Fluorescein angiography is being used without replacement and aids in prompt diagnosis, to this day.

The Horacio Ferrer Eye Institute was established in the 1960s (before Dr Olga Ferrer left Cuba) to motivate young ophthalmologists and to encourage research in ocular diseases. In Miami, the Horacio Ferrer Eye Institute was basically an organization that supported research and organized various ocular congresses that were attended by ophthalmologists worldwide. She also established a team for the development of ophthalmic laser procedures at the Horacio Ferrer institute.[10] She worked on the laser-based surgical systems and unveiled new frontiers of microsurgery. She presented the usage of argon laser in treatment of central serous chorio-retinopathy and glaucoma at the Pan-American Congress of Ophthalmology in 1972 and 1985 respectively. The XeCl laser was introduced by Dr. Ferrer et al. and they were the first to study and suggest the uses of this laser.[10] She even worked on precision laser surgery along with her son Alfred H. Sklar.[11]

She was duly recognized by several reputed organizations for her exceptional contributions [Fig. 2].[2] She embraced the newer technologies and surgical techniques. She got comfortable with using the surgical microscope and was happy to learn the “newer” techniques of Extracapsular Cataract Extraction, when it was introduced. She worked on studying the Ocular manifestations of AIDS in 1980s and also participated on many missionary medical trips with the Miami Medical Team to countries like Nicaragua and the Caribbean. In the mid 1990s, along with her son Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar (an Ophthalmologist trained at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, still practising in Miami) and a group of ten physicians she helped help out with a refugee crisis in Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. In the new millennium, Dr. Olga Ferrer moved to live in Panama with her eldest son, for a few years and spent her last five years living in Lima, Peru.

Figure 2:
Howard Palmatier awarding Dr Olga Ferrer with a diploma at the Lincoln-Marti awards in 1973[2]

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.” – Robert Coller

Dr. Olga Maria Ferrer is a perfect example of this quote as her efforts and the urge to be productive, resulted in great achievements. Her inputs for the development of fundus camera, fluorescein angiography and lasers have made retinal disease diagnosis way easier. Life of an ophthalmologist, certainly would have been difficult without these diagnostic and treatment modalities. Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar, a proud son and the ophthalmology successor continuing the legacy of the family, stated that “Dr. Olga Ferrer’s life was dedicated to the memory of her father, Dr. Horacio Ferrer, and to her passion as an ophthalmologist”. Dr. Olga Ferrer’s dedication and passion for her work led her to the path of success, and the family’s self-less contributions [Fig. 3] have provided us as era to be remembered by making retinal diagnosis easier for decades altogether.

Figure 3:
The legacy of the Ferrer-Sklar family – A family picture taken in 1955 at Havana with Dr. Olga Ferrer (sitting on the left), Dr. Alfred Lee Sklar (standing in the center) and Dr. Horacio Ferrer (sitting on the right) with Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar in his lap. (Courtesy – Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar)

The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money… but rather a legacy of character and faith.” – Billy Graham


We thank Dr. Virgil Ferrer Sklar (son of Dr. Olga Maria Ferrer Paisan de Sklar and Dr. Alfred Lee Sklar), an ophthalmologist trained at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and currently practising in Miami; and Dr. Eduardo C. Alfonso (Director, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute) for their precious time, prompt responses, priceless pictures and valuable information.


1. House USC Report. U. S. Government Printing Office 1962 1624
2. Ferrer, Olga M [Internet American Academy of Ophthalmology] 2021 Available from:https://www.aao.org/biographies-detail/dvorak-theobold-georgiana-copy Last accessed on 2022 Sep 26
3. David NJ The Early Days of Fluorescein Angiography 1994 16 4
4. Ferrer OM Fluorescein Fundus Photography As Special Office Practice Procedure:Southern Medical Journal 1966 59 453 5
5. Ferrer OM Fluorescein fundus photography (F. F. Ph.). A five year review (1960-1965) Bibl Ophthalmol 1969 80 42 65
6. Ferrer OM Serial Fluorescein Fundus Photography of Retinal Circulation:A Description of Technique American Journal of Ophthalmology 1965 60 587 91
7. Novotny HR, Alvis DL A method of photographing fluorescence in circulating blood in the human retina Circulation 1961 24 82 6
8. OBERHOFF P, EVANS PY, DELANEY JF Cinematographic Documentation of Retinal Circulation Times Archives of Ophthalmology 1965 74 77 80
9. Alvis DL, Julian KG The story surrounding fluorescein angiography J Ophthal Photography 1982 5 6 8
10. Ferrer O, Sklar HA A New Laser for Ophthalmic Surgery. New Microsurgical Concepts, Posterior and Anterior Segments 1987 14 74 9
11. Sklar AH, Frank AM, Ferrer OM, Mcmillan CF, Brown SA, Rienecker F, et al. Method and apparatus for precision laser surgery [Internet], 5098426, 1992 [cited 2022 Oct 16] Available from:https://www.freepatentsonline.com/5098426.html
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