By Sallie James
LANTANA — He was a gifted surgeon and beloved doctor who used his skills to restore sight to thousands of patients, many who swore he changed their lives forever. Lawrence B. Katzen, the founder of Katzen Eye Care and Laser Center in Boynton Beach, was also a devoted philanthropist who traveled regularly to developing countries to teach physicians how to operate.
Dr. Katzen died Oct. 20 after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer. He was 71.
“He was an amazing man. An absolutely extraordinary man,” said his wife, Jane, a nurse who worked together with her husband at their eye surgery center for years. “He loved giving back. That was his favorite thing to do.”
A pioneer in the field of laser vision correction, Dr. Katzen founded the Katzen Eye Care and Laser Center in 1981 in Boynton Beach. Since then, more than 50,000 LASIK and cataract surgery and general ophthalmology patients have had their vision surgically improved at the center.
The native Floridian was born on June 11, 1949, to Rose and Harry Katzen, and was raised in Miami Beach. He and his two brothers all became well-respected physicians.
The surgery center’s Facebook page blossomed with condolences from adoring patients and staff.
“So sorry to hear of his passing. I thank Dr. Katzen and his wonderful team for the incredible quality of life I now enjoy. My deepest condolences to his family and the entire Katzen team. May God bless you and comfort you,” wrote Steven C. Traynor.
“One of the best doctors I’ve ever had. He clearly loved what he did and was very compassionate to all his patients,” Wendy Marks said in another post.
Wrote Patricia Érika Germosén, “I’m SO incredibly sad to hear this news. I will be eternally grateful to Dr. Katzen; he literally changed my life when he personally performed my LASIK surgery back in 2013.”
One of his pet projects was to share his eye surgery skills by training physicians in underserved countries through Project Orbis. The organization supports a Flying Eye Hospital that allows leading physicians to train and educate local ophthalmologists, medical students and nurses in underserved countries.
Dr. Katzen made 19 trips abroad, helping to save thousands from blindness and eye diseases that were previously untreatable by local practitioners. His goal was to leave each community with a better-equipped medical staff that could continue with its new skills. He made his first trip overseas in 1982 to Africa.
His son Harrison remembered accompanying his father to Peru at age 13 and seeing the need that his father filled. It was something he could never forget.
“It had a profound impact on me as a person because I got to see the impact he was having across the world,” his son said. “Just to see the gratitude. He operated on kids for the most part. He did ocular plastic surgery.”
In one particular instance Dr. Katzen rebuilt an eyelid for a child in Malawi who had been run over by an oxcart. Because of the injury, the child’s eye had remained open around the clock.
“He was very deformed,” Jane Katzen recalled. She said when Dr. Katzen returned to the village to check on the child after his surgery, the chief and numerous tribesmen lay across the tarmac to show honor to her husband.
“They felt a miracle had been performed,” Jane Katzen said.
In another instance, Dr. Katzen operated on a Peruvian woman in her 80s who had been blind since age 13 when she was struck by lightning. She saw her family for the first time as an octogenarian.
“We take for granted eye surgery in this country,” Jane Katzen noted.
Dr. Katzen was also one of the founders of the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation, created in memory of one of Dr. Katzen’s best friends who had died of skin cancer.
Dr. Katzen and his wife gave countless hours and financial support to build the foundation over the past 25-plus years. Dr. Katzen received the RDK 2020 Vision Award for the vision he had to lead and guide the organization for all its years.
Dr. Katzen met the woman who would become his wife in 1972, when the two were students at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She was studying nursing and he was a medical student. They married in 1976 and worked together at their eye surgery center until Dr. Katzen’s death.
Dr. Katzen attended Miami Beach High School and the University of Miami before graduating from the University of Miami School of Medicine and completing his ophthalmology residency training at the Washington Hospital Center.
“He was respected by the optometric community. He also taught at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute as a visiting professor,” his wife said. “He was a gifted surgeon and loved teaching other physicians.”
Dr. Katzen was also a passionate boater, golfer, diver, fisherman and skier. He instilled the love for the water in his children and grandchildren.
He is survived by his wife, Jane; a daughter, Janine Katzen, and a son, Harrison Katzen; a brother, Barry Katzen; and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His parents; his stepfather, Al Astor, and his brother Melvyn Katzen preceded him in death.
Services were held virtually on Oct. 20. Donations can be made to the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation at https://melanomafoundation.com/, or to Orbis at https://www.orbis.org/en/how-you-can-help.