Ophthalmologist Dr. John Siliquini Sr. can recall cataract surgery that required large incisions.
“We’d cut an eye halfway open” to remove a cataract, the 80-year-old ophthalmologist said, and then have to put several stitches in the eye.
In the 50 years he’s been practicing medicine, Siliquini said last week, surgical techniques have become so sophisticated and incisions so tiny that barely a stitch is needed.
During his half-century of treating Northeast Philadelphia patients, that change is among the most dramatic he’s seen.
Siliquini works with his son, John Jr., so he is known as “Senior” to the staff of Keystone Eye Associates on Blue Grass Road. The doctor interned at Nazareth Hospital. He began his career in 1963 and opened his own practice in Mayfair in July 1966 on his 33rd birthday.
“It was a one-man operation,” he said. Now, with Keystone, he’s with a staff of nine, including his son.
On the day his practice opened on July 19, 1966, he said, “I examined five patients. Two were family friends and three were referrals.”
Word got around. The number of patients grew.
There were many patients in Keystone’s waiting room early on Dec. 4 when a reporter visited the doctor. The practice moved to the 9100 block of Blue Grass about five years ago, Siliquini said.
Now 80, Siliquini is not about to stop.
“Not a chance,” he said. “I cannot even imagine no longer seeing those patients who have become like family to me over the years.”
When he was in his forties, however, the doctor was afraid his career might have closed.
Siliquini experienced some numbness in one of his hands, something a surgeon, who relies on his hands, would dread. He thought his surgical career was over. But, Siliquini is a doctor who knows doctors. Siliquini called one of his friends, who determined the eye doctor needed some spinal surgery. The operation was a success, and Siliquini kept going.
Some years later, in the 1980s, the doctor broke his left wrist. He had gotten up on a chair to reach something in his office. The chair had wheels. It moved, and Siliquini fell.
“Dumbest thing I ever did,” he said. He drove himself to the hospital to have the arm seen to. It was the same wrist he had broken before — when he was in kindergarten.
Not even a snow storm, no, make that blizzard, could keep Siliquini from his patients.
Injury or infection can rob a patient of his or her sight, he said. One of his patients was shot in an eye, and a little thing like 18 inches of snow wasn’t going to keep the doctor from operating on her.
The woman’s husband was cleaning a gun at their kitchen table and the gun went off. The bullet hit the woman in an eye and exited through a temple.
He arranged for her to be taken to Wills Eye Hospital, then on Spring Garden Street, but he couldn’t get to her because it was snowing so heavily. To the rescue came a friend who had a four-wheel-drive vehicle, which was not that common in the 1970s when this incident occurred.
Needless to say, Siliquini made it downtown to operate on his patient.
The doctor did a lot of reconstructive surgery, he said, but now, he confines his efforts to what he can do in the office.
“No other ophthalmologist has been as dedicated to this geographic area and is still actively practicing,” said Dr. Dennis Slochower, Keystone’s managing partner. “Senior continues to provide wisdom and leadership to the other physicians in our practice,” said Dr. Leo Santamarina, another Keystone partner.
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