Dr. Marcelino Rio Torres (1944-2023)
by Dr. Eduardo Alfonso
The world of ophthalmology lost a true visionary and healer with the passing of Dr. Marcelino Rios Torres. For 27 years, he served as the esteemed director of the «Ramón Pando Ferrer» Cuban Institute of Ophthalmology, leaving an indelible mark on the field of medicine and touching the lives of countless individuals. Dr. Rios Torres was not only an outstanding leader but also an academic, scientific, and humanitarian force in the Cuban health sector, his contributions spanning five decades.
Born on February 2, 1944, his brilliance and unwavering work ethic became apparent early in his career, earning him respect and admiration from his peers and patients alike. He attained the highest professional ranks including First and Second Degree Specialist in Ophthalmology, Diploma in Public Administration, Doctor of Medical Sciences and professor and researcher at the University of Medical Sciences of Havana. He exhibited a passion for medicine and an unwavering commitment to helping others and embarked on his medical journey with dedication and purpose. As he honed his skills and expertise, he became deeply involved in the field of ophthalmology, recognizing the profound impact visual impairment had on the lives of individuals and their families.
In 2019, Dr. Rios Torres concluded his remarkable tenure as the director of the renowned «Pando Ferrer» institute. Fifty years of service to the institution and its patients were celebrated with a well-deserved tribute in Havana, honoring a lifetime of dedication, compassion, and innovation. His leadership had established the institute into a nationally recognized referral center.
One of the most significant projects of Dr. Rios Torres’ career was his instrumental role in the development and implementation of the Operation Miracle program. Collaborating with various Latin American governments, this initiative brought low-cost cataract surgery to local patients. By combining the expertise of Cuban doctors with the support of regional governments, Operation Miracle provided cataract surgery to populations served by the public health care systems of the countries that solicited participation in this initiative despite the controversy created amongst local ophthalmologists and national professional societies of ophthalmology. Dr. Rios Torres’ vision expressed his vision of the project explaining the goals that compassion and collaboration could break down financial barriers to access to health care and alleviate suffering.
Throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Rios Torres consistently demonstrated a dedication to academic and scientific excellence. He was not content with existing knowledge but sought to push the boundaries of understanding and treatment in ophthalmology. He promoted research and educational which paved the way for future generations of eye specialists, inspiring them to pursue innovation and better patient care in Cuba. He opened opportunities for ophthalmology training to numerous other trainees from other countries primarily from Latin America. He was an avid attendee to national and supranational educational activities, and encouraged and supported his colleagues in Cuban ophthalmology to attend as well.
Beyond his professional achievements, Dr. Rios Torres was known for his kindness and empathy. He approached everyone with respect and understanding, recognizing the fear and vulnerability that often-accompanied visual impairments. He treated not only the ailment but also the person, providing comfort and support during challenging times. On a personal note, we shared a common understanding of the importance of education to promote improvements in eye and vison care. He always approached me with kindness and respect, as we established a professional and personal relationship for over 35 years.
Dr. Rios Torres’ legacy extends far beyond the walls of the institute he led or the programs he championed. He leaves behind a generation of medical professionals he mentored, instilling in them the values of compassion, humility, and dedication to service. His contributions to the health sector will continue to ripple through time, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of countless patients.
As we bid farewell to this remarkable soul, let us remember Dr. Marcelino Rios Torres not with sorrow, but with gratitude for the lives he touched, the visions he restored, and the hope he instilled. His unwavering commitment to the betterment of humanity serves as an enduring inspiration for us all, reminding us that in a world filled with darkness, we have the power to be a beacon of light for others. May his legacy continue to shine brightly, guiding us on our paths of healing and service to others. Rest in peace, Dr. Marcelino Rios Torres.
Eduardo C. Alfonso MD
Director Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
Chairman of Ophthalmology University of Miami Miller School of medicine
Kathleen And Stanley Glaser Professor
Dr. Marcelino Rio Torres