Alabama Academy of Honor

Alston Callahan

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1996, and revised in 2005.

Alston Callahan was a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the son of Neil Callahan, Sr. and Effie Alston Callahan. He graduated from the Vicksburg High School and then earned his B.A. degree from Mississippi College at Clinton. Tulane Medical School awarded him the M.D. degree in 1933. After interning at Charity Hospital, he completed his ophthalmic residency at Tulane Graduate School of Medicine, receiving in 1936 an M.S. in ophthalmology.

In 1941, Dr. Callahan was most fortunate in marrying Eivor Holst of San Francisco, California. They have been blessed with six children and ten grandchildren. Sadly, Mrs. Eivor H. Callahan died on March 8, 2002.

During World War II, Dr. Callahan served his country from 1942 until 1946 in the United States Medical Corps as Chief of the 300-bed Eye Section of the U.S. Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Dr. Callahan and his family moved to Birmingham after the war with the idea of creating an eye hospital as a part of the newly established UAB Medical Center. In the process, he helped to organize the first Department of Ophthalmology for the University and served as its first Chairman. Also, he initiated the policy of examining, treating, and operating without charge upon indigent patients sponsored by the 200 Lions Clubs of Alabama, with the understanding that the Lions would defray hospital costs. This humanitarian tradition is now continued by most Alabama ophthalmologists. With the joint effort of the Alabama Lions Sight Conservation Association, the sight of thousands of Alabamians has been improved.

By successfully treating and operating upon wealthy patients, whom he declined to charge, he developed a network of donors who, like himself, saw the need for and the importance of an eye hospital in Alabama. The land for this hospital was purchased even before the expansion of the University of Alabama at Birmingham was begun. Contributions from grateful patients and grants from Alabama's philanthropic foundations gradually reached $1.2 million. Construction of the first unit of the Eye Foundation Hospital was begun in 1962 by Brice Building Company, and it opened its doors for patients in January, 1964. Five additional phases of expansion followed, the last in 2005, adding the seventh floor to the professional office building and parking tower.

In 1997, the Eye Foundation Hospital was purchased by the University of Alabama and UAB Health Services Foundation. In October, 1999, upon the recommendation of then-President Dr. W. Ann Reynolds, the trustees of the University of Alabama by unanimous vote renamed the hospital the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital. The trustees of the Eye Foundation Hospital and the trustees of the EyeSight Foundation added their approval.

After his 80th birthday, with the success of the Eye Foundation Hospital achieved, Dr. Callahan discontinued examining and testing patients. With the assistance and advice of Harold Skalka, M.D., then-Chairman of the UAB Department of Ophthalmology, and with generous donations from leading Birmingham and Alabama citizens, five Ph.D. investigators were added to the faculty, and laboratories constructed for them. This retinal research group at the Eye Foundation Hospital and UAB is one of the most respected in the United States.

By the year 2005, more than 300 residents and Fellows have received their ophthalmic training at this institution. As part of their education they, backed by the senior staff, supervise Alabama's only 24-hour eye emergency room. Equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic technology, the facility is an integral component of the residency training program, and is in daily and nightly demand as a support resource for eye emergency patients who come from all over the Southeast.

Dr. Callahan participated in eye surgery congresses on six continents, circled the globe three times, and visited 93 foreign countries, including the North and South Poles and Timbuktu.

In 1997, Dr. Callahan with the help of son Michael A. Callahan, M.D., Charles D. Kelman, M.D. of NYC and attorney Daniel H. Markstein, III, founded the International Retinal Research Foundation, dedicated to furthering the research of the human eye with emphasis on macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. This foundation seeks and receives generous donations and legacies. It has now made grants of more than $3.5 million to researchers in these investigative fields.

In 1996 he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. Also in 1999, the Birmingham Museum of Art Trustees named the Indian and Southeast Asian Art Gallery for Eivor and Alston Callahan. This initiated the annual Asian Art Lecture Series, and the planned acquisition of additional Indian Art. In 2000 the Mayor and City Council of Birmingham elected Dr. Callahan to the "Gallery of Distinguished Citizens" of Birmingham. In 2004 the Board of Directors of the Eye Foundation, Inc. established the Alston Callahan, M.D. Employee Education and Development Fund.

Alston Callahan died in Birmingham on October 28, 2005.