If you happened to be in any science classes with Carl Camras at New Trier East, chances are he was that student who made it all seem easy.
Carl was an academic ace, part of his family’s legacy of brilliant people. His father, Marvin Camras, held more than 500 patents.
So, when Carl decided to attend medical school, it was no surprise that he was accepted at five Ivy League institutions.
His early resume reads like this: undergraduate at Yale, medical school at Columbia University, internship at Harvard General, residency at the Jules Stein Clinic in Los Angeles, fellowship at Mt. Sinai in New York, and chairman of University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
He was destined to do great things in medicine, especially in science behind eyesight.
Nancy Camras was married to Carl for 30 years. In fact, Nancy said Carl knew he was going to marry her long before they met.
“His mother told me that, as a kid, Carl wanted to marry a Swedish horsewoman because he loved horses and was into blondes. That’s what I am. I started riding at nine,” said Nancy, who still rides today. “So what were the odds of us getting together, I’m from Connecticut and he was from Illinois.”
Nancy said that Carl was focused on his future when they met. “From a very young age, ophthalmology was his calling. At the end of our first date he said, “I’m going to cure blindness.”
Carl may not have actually cured blindness, but his research was key in developing the treatment that is now standard care for glaucoma.
At 19, an age when most of his classmates were perfecting the art of the party, Carl was working with a professor searching for an alternative to the only treatment for glaucoma at the time. Epinephrine, the research drug of the time, had nearly intolerable side effects. In a happy accident, a failed experiment led Carl to investigate the hormone prostaglandin as a treatment. It led to the creation of the drug Xalantan.
Nancy said Carl had worked closely with two professors in the development of the drug. “At the time, Carl had no idea that a patent had been taken out on what was called the Prostaglandin Project. He was giving away his knowledge. There were three men who should have been listed as co-inventors. But that was not done.”
At about the same time, Carl’s future had already been destined to be cut short. “When we got married, Carl already had Hodgkins lymphoma but didn’t know it yet,” Nancy said. “Early in his illness, Carl’s attitude was to fit in as much life as possible. He was full of energy and optimism.”
However, Nancy said that Carl required a very independent wife and family. “Carl really dedicated his life to medicine. There was nothing more important than appropriate patient care.
That kind of dedication and workaholic way left the family neglected from his presence but we could always be proud of what he was doing.” Their two daughters are now grown.
But the betrayal by the professor who secretly patented the drug left Carl feeling as if his work mattered little in the contribution to improving the sight of glaucoma patients. It haunted him until his death in 2009.
“When Carl knew he was going to die, he was standing at his desk and said, ‘My life’s work was stolen. Will I be remembered?’”
Yes, Carl, this article is one small step to honor your life and your work. Now, your classmates from New Trier know about your accomplishments. And it makes us feel proud.