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Born in 1935 in Shiraz, son to Abdullah and BehjatosadatKhodadoust, Ali Khodadoust lived what can only be described as an extraordinary life defined by his passion, values, faith, and love of humanity.  The breadth and depth of his legacy could not help but shine out past his humility, and he left this world better in as many ways as he could with each and every one of his days.  He passed away in his 83rd year after a long battle with post-operative complications of heart surgery in New York City, New York.

A brother to Akbar, Mehrangeez, Rohangeez, ShoorangeezKhodadoust, and survived by brotherMansoorKhodadoust, Ali began life with dedicated work and diligence from a young age, embarking upon an unexpected career in medicine fueled by nothing but a peculiarly unique drive and dedication.  Growing up in a life after the second world war, he always strived to support his family, whether through the work found in storefronts, in factories, delivering ice, sewing buttons onto clothing, or teaching in the small village of Darab after graduating high school.  While working as a school teacher full time, he was able to pass the entrance exam with highest marks to attend medical school in Shiraz, teaching himself English with a dictionary at night to translate his textbooks.  His distinguished dedication and perseverance of his character led him to be the very first foreign resident accepted at Johns Hopkins University, and his mentor Dr. Maumenee called him “the best resident I have ever trained” and his research“exquisite.”(1) 

His contributions to the understanding of corneal graft transplantation rejection revolutionized not only the understandings to reduce graft failures, but elucidated the mechanisms underpinning organ transplantation as a whole by focusing on the immune-privileged cornea.  At a very unique time in medical history, his contributions allowed physicians in all fields information to revolutionize organ transplantation -- what had only been but a fantasy at that point -- into a reality that he convinced skeptical nations across the world, no matter their political affiliation, to adopt in practice. 

Not only did Dr. Ali Khodadoust’s work allow for many long-term blind patients to regain their eyesight, but he spread this knowledge through the world.  Upon the completion of his fellowship at Wilmer Eye Institute at Hopkins, his desire to bring back the knowledge to his homeland conflicted with Wilmer’s desire to keep his unique talent, and an unprecedented exchange program between Shiraz and Hopkins became borne of this conflict and for the sake of the inspiration of this singular man.(1)  This program between the United States and Iran ran between 1968 and 1979, and established a higher quality of care between these nations, and establishing an eye service in Shiraz that became “the preeminent clinical ophthalmology service in the Middle East” at the time.(6)  Flying on the inaugural flight of the world’s first private flying eye hospital, Project Orbis, in 1983 Dr. Khodadoust helped to further the mission of spreading improved training across the world to all countries, establishing goodwill through the shared desire to improve the lives of others.  In an interview by Geraldo Rivera on ABC’s “20/20” about this work, it was estimated that if only one doctor trained helped one patient per working day with their new knowledge, that after a decade 14 million patient lives would be affected.(4) 

Recognized and awarded at the highest levels by his colleagues at the Congress of German Ophthalmology for both his innovations and his achievements, his accolades alone could not cover the depth of the lives he touched.  It has been estimated that Dr. Khodadoust has performed more corneal transplants than the top five surgeons in the United States combined, and for those whose sight he could not physically treat, his heartfelt emotional empowerment to give such patients meaningful lives with dignity separated him out as a physician who taught “the art of being human” to his student.  In the words of former foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, Dr. Khodadoust was a “hakim” who “heals not just people’s bodies, but also their souls.”(2) 

Honored as a National Treasure to Iran through the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Dr. Khodadoust became the first living figure to be honored with such a ceremony in Iran by the globally renowned organization.(2)  Even during the years of Professorship at Johns Hopkins and running Chief of section of Cornea for the Eye Service at Yale New Haven Hospital, he continually returned to his homeland to treat victims of the Iran-Iraq war, a population heavily affected by leftover landmines, use of chemical weapons, even many years later, and for whom he not only gave back their eyesight but advocated for their voices internationally in the medical community.(7) 

Dr. Khodadoust’s lifelong dream, establishing standards of care for patients in his homeland as he saw in other countries, not only drove his life’s investments into what would be a forty-year long achievement of building an eye hospital in his hometown, but also drove an impetus for decreasing curable blindness worldwide with empathy and compassion.  Even in the years of illness he faced, he furthered medical innovation by being the first man in the United States to be given a bacteria-eating virus, a phage, specifically engineered for him by his colleagues at Yale.  This endeavor not only cured his infection, but ended up producing research which led to the discovery of a mechanism to reverse antibiotic resistance itself.(3)  Even in his years of fighting illness, he furthered healthcare for mankind.

Human were created “to achieve the lofty goal of being human, which is to connect with the divine, therefore one should always walk with God,” he once said.  In his introspection of the meaning of life, he believed that “the physical body is just an edifice, and human organs are just for the preservation of the entity inside this cage.”(2) 

After nearly six years of his battle with the limitations of his cage, he released his soul into the universe.  He is survived by his wife, Simin (maiden name) Farazdaghi, and his children Marjan, Mehran, Maryam, Pooyan, and MojganKhodadoust. 




(Photo credit: MojganKhodadoust, 2011, Shiraz.)

  1. Maumenee, A. E. (Alfred E., American Academy of Ophthalmology. Foundation, Bancroft Library. Regional Oral History Office, Hughes, S. S., Ort, L., Ryan, S. J., & Wilson, J. (1994). The Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at the Johns Hopkins University and the Stanford Medical School : oral history transcript. San Francisco : Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology ; Berkeley : Regional Oral History Office, University of California. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/wilmeropthalmological00maumrich
  2. Khodadoust Honored as a “National Treasure.” (2015, March 15). Retrieved March 10, 2018, from https://financialtribune.com/articles/people/13190/khodadoust-honored-as-a-national-tre asure
  1. A virus, fished out of a lake, may have saved a man’s life. (2016, December 7). Retrieved March 10, 2018, from https://www.statnews.com/2016/12/07/virus-bacteria-phage-therapy/
  2. Princeton Alumni Weekly. (1982). princeton alumni weekly.
  3. Sajjadi, S., Fesharaki, H., Abtahi, Z.-A., Murray, R. T., Fereidan-Esfahani, M., Mazloumi, M., &Abtahi, S.-H. (2013). The Persian legend of ophthalmology: Ali AsgharKhodadoust and his everlasting lines. Archives of Iranian Medicine, 16(6), 373–376. https://doi.org/013166/AIM.0014
  4. Cooney, Gene. “Making the Blind See.”
  5. Khodadoust, Ali A. International Ophthalmology Review. “Iran and the Scourge of Preventable Blindness.”
  6. Ames, L. (2001, April 29). MEDICINE; Out of a Nightmare, New Dreams Are Born. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/29/nyregion/medicine-out-of-a-nightmare-new-dreams -are-born.html
  7. Khodadoust AA, Silverstein AM. Transplantation and rejection of individual cell layers of the cornea. Invest Ophthalmol. 1969 Apr;8(2):180-95.
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