The modern fiber-optic surgical headlight has represented a quantum advance from the screw-in light bulb headlight which was commonly in use throughout the surgical world at the beginning of the 20th century. The Editor and his fellow neurosurgical residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital during the 1960s were always identifiable by the characteristic red burn mark occupying the middle of their foreheads caused by frequent contact with the operating surgeon’s headlight whenever the surgeon turned their head. To add insult to injury the illumination produced by such headlights just wasn’t much better than that produced by a a poor flashlight.
When the Editor advanced from being the chief resident in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins to being a Navy neurosurgeon in 1967, heading up a 40 bed surgical unit, he made a personal resolve to try to come up with something more effective in the way of practical illumination and magnification. He was fortunate in that one of his optometrist father‘s classmates at the Columbia University School of Optometry had a son, Richard Finebloom who was head of the firm Designs for Vision which specialized in manufacturing eyeglass mounted magnifying loupes and telescopes. With the advent of fiberoptic cables it was clear that the combination of magnification in conjunction with a highly concentrated beam of light would allow for microsurgical technique to be routinely employed without the need for expensive and cumbersome operating microscopes.
Beginning with the first prototypes in 1967 a practical Burton Fiberoptic headlight then emerged. Shown on the right is the Editor performing spine surgery using the first Burton headlight in conjunction with 4.5 magnification eyeglass mounted on Designs for Vision operating telescopes.
On February 29, 1972, the unit shown to the left featuring a welder’s headpiece and a universal swivel joint, was awarded U.S. Patent 3,645,254.
In today’s world most surgeons use this technology for performing routine cases which they now take for granted.