Volume LVIIJanuary 2010Number 1

Meet Bro. Leonard Apt: A Renaissance Man

Bro. Dr. Leonard Apt, Equity Lodge No. 591, Philadelphia, is a gregarious man who exudes both appreciation and vivacity for life. In addition to his renowned career in medicine as a provider, pioneer and educator, this "Renaissance man," as friends call him, is a well-known contributor to the arts, a sports enthusiast, an authority on oenology and a gourmet food connoisseur.

Dr. Apt is best known for establishing a new medical subspecialty to address a reoccurring problem he faced throughout his early years as a pediatrician.

Diagnosing and treating eye problems in children is especially important because a child's vision develops primarily in the first six years of life. Unless a defect is detected, a child may have poor vision in the involved eye for the rest of his or her life, according to Dr. Apt. Studies indicate 2 to 5 percent of preschool-age children have a defect that may not be apparent.

"During my pediatric training, I would request a consultation for a baby who was having a vision problem and the ophthalmologists would ask, 'how do you get information from a baby?'" he said. "That's when I realized I could adapt my pediatric techniques to ophthalmology. I stepped aside to receive full training in ophthalmology and became the first physician to be board-certified in both pediatrics and ophthalmology. I helped create pediatric ophthalmology as a new subspecialty in medicine."

He is listed in the "Who's Who in the World" directory as the founder of academic pediatric ophthalmology. He is also the founder of the first full-time division of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA's (University of California, Los Angeles) school of medicine.

Dr. Apt was born and raised in Philadelphia. After entering college at age 15, he graduated with highest honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. Because of Dr. Apt's love for science and research, a Penn instructor suggested he study medicine. After graduating from Jefferson Medical College with highest honors in 1945, Dr. Apt completed his residency in pediatrics at the children's hospitals in Detroit and Cincinnati and at Harvard's Children's Medical Center, where he also served as chief medical resident. He continued on as full-time faculty as a teaching fellow and an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard University Medical School until 1955. He completed his residency in ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital, and after developing a formal pediatric ophthalmology training program as the first special fellow with National Institutes of Health, he returned as the first fellow in pediatrics ophthalmology at Wills in 1959.

At UCLA, beginning in 1961, he served as assistant professor in ophthalmology, then professor, and has served as a distinguished professor since 1993. Having established the first full-time division of pediatric ophthalmology there in 1961, he currently serves as the program's director emeritus. That same year, he became a founder of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA, and attending surgeon.

During his residency at Harvard's Children's Medical Center, he developed the Apt Test, which distinguishes fetal from adult hemoglobin and is known worldwide by pediatricians and obstetricians. He also assisted in the design of plastic bags now used for blood transfusions in children and contributed to the development of present day non-allergic absorbable surgical sutures.

In addition to treating patients, Dr. Apt has concentrated on prevention. He co-founded the UCLA Center to Prevent Childhood Blindness. In 1999, he established an extensive preschool vision testing program at UCLA and continues to serve as its medical advisor. The program has benefited thousands of children in the Los Angeles area. He also helped develop an inexpensive antiseptic eye drop which is now the standard method for preparing and sterilizing the eye before surgery, and is heavily used to reduce incidences of pediatric blindness in developing countries.

"My scientific and academic work revolves around me always being interested in knowing why," he said.

His untiring quest for answers has earned him the Dickson Emeritus Professorship Award, the American Association for Pediatrics Lifetime Achievement Award, UCLA's Alumni Universal Service Award and the Medical Alumni Association's Professional Achievement Award, among many other recognitions. Dr. Apt published more than 300 articles and published one of the early textbooks on pediatric ophthalmology. He is the first active faculty member to endow both a fellowship and a chair at UCLA. The Leonard Apt Lecture was established by the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Ophthalmology in honor of his dedication and contributions to pediatrics and pediatric ophthalmology.

Dr. Apt joined Equity Lodge No. 591 (formerly La Fayette Lodge No. 71) in 1944 and later became a Shriner. A few of his friends were involved in the fraternity and told him about the good things the organization did for the community.

"I've enjoyed the brotherhood and what they do," he said. "It's a great organization. I especially enjoy the people."

Outside the office, he is an enthusiast and supporter of many different genres of art, in particular, performing arts, and serves on various boards of directors including as vice president of finance for the UCLA Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts. His interests and contributions also expand to the athletic department at UCLA, and he is a member of several international food and wine societies.

Dr. Apt's most recent achievement? His Apt Test was a question on "Jeopardy." "I feel I've truly made it now," he quipped.

Nearly 60 years after he started practicing medicine, Dr. Apt remains active as a physician, educator, board member and donor. "I've had a long career," he said. "I enjoyed it and it still keeps me very busy. I'm very grateful for my achievements and glad I've been able to live long enough to appreciate them."

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