Philip Hessburg speaks to attendees at an EyesOn Design event.

Photo provided by Kathy Pecar Lightbody


BIG POINTS – He may not be on the cover of national magazines or have his own TED Talk, but if the sight is ever restored to the blind and visually impaired, Philip Hessburg will have played an important role.

The Grosse Pointe Park ophthalmologist won’t take the credit for it, but the biennial research congresses he organizes have made tremendous strides in the field of machine vision since their inception around 2000. will take place this year on September 19 – the congresses alternate each year between “The eye and the chip” and “The eye, the brain and the automobile”.

The congresses were born out of Hessburg’s work with the nonprofit Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology based in Grosse Pointe Park, which he founded in 1972. The DIO, which focuses on education, research and assistance to blind and visually impaired, is now part of the ophthalmology department at the Henry Ford Health System.

David J. Goldman, vice president of education in the ophthalmology department at Henry Ford Hospital, has known Hessburg for over 10 years. Via email, he said Hessburg is “an influential, inspiring and innovative physician – truly dedicated to the field of ophthalmology” and an advocate for appropriate patient care.

“He’s a role model for every young doctor engaged in the field of medicine,” Goldman said in an email interview. “We are fortunate to have his mentorship within our department. “

Former president of the Michigan Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, Hessburg has won numerous local, state, and national awards, including some from the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

In 2019, Hessburg was honored by the Michigan Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons Board of Trustees for his “lifetime of service, extraordinary accomplishments, and visionary contributions to ophthalmology.”

“The World Congress on Machine Vision, The Eye and The Chip, is considered to be literally the most important and influential meeting in the world to advance this field,” Goldman said via email. “Dr. Hessburg’s vision to create this event and his courage to fight opponents and financial obstacles to hosting such an event are testament to his passion to have a meaningful impact in reducing the burden of loss. vision for individuals.

By bringing together researchers from around the world, they are able to share their work with each other and make progress that might not have been possible if they had all worked separately.

“Most of his successes are covered by anonymity, further underscoring his altruistic approach,” Goldman said in an email. “In the field of machine vision, partnerships and collaboration of ideas from world congresses have accelerated advances in the field. Dr. Hessburg is at the heart of each of these relationships.

Despite her accolades, Hessburg is remarkably “unpretentious,” said Kathy Pecar Lightbody, president of EyesOn Design, a former resident of Grosse Pointe Park who recently moved to Mancelona Township. Pecar Lightbody has known Hessburg all his life; he was a close friend of his late father, Allen Pecar.

“He has a humility (to him),” said Pecar Lightbody. “It is of unlimited accessibility. Its cause is its goal. He does not do it for the distinctions.

A graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and Marquette University School of Medicine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hessburg, served as a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force before his family moved to Michigan so that he could do a four-year internship. residency in ophthalmology at Henry Ford Hospital. He and his wife, Betsy, have five grown children, 17 grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.

He likes to say that he met his wife “in a lunatic asylum”, and it is true. He was a medical student and Betsy Haupt was a social worker at the Milwaukee Hospital for Mental Illness when they met.

“With the exception of my wife, ophthalmology was the best choice I have ever made,” said Hessburg, who was drawn to the field because he wanted to be able to help patients of all ages and genders, and be able to perform surgery and other medical work.

In November, Hessburg and his wife will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. They remain exceptionally close.

“You will never see them walking without holding hands,” said daughter Soozi Hampton of Grosse Pointe Park.

Although his son Tom Hessburg of Grosse Pointe Park said he and his brother were “going in completely different directions” in their careers, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an ophthalmologist. He said his father “did a lot of research when he was younger and invented medical devices.”

These include the Hessburg anterior chamber interlocular lens. Hessburg has also written book chapters on ophthalmological topics and published over 50 scientific papers.

“I tried to retire once, but I missed it badly,” Hessburg said with a laugh, recounting his attempt to retire at 65. “After two weeks I knew it (it wasn’t for me).

At 91, Hessburg no longer sees patients, but he is still the medical director of the DIO, and he also still works tirelessly behind the scenes to organize EyesOn Design and the world congresses.

“He’s the brightest, most generous man you can meet, and he has the greatest passion for the visually impaired,” said Hampton. “He dedicated his life to the visually impaired. And he’s the busiest man I know.

From automotive leaders to leaders in medicine, Hessburg has amassed a wide range of loyal contacts who have supported his work.

“I have had the opportunity to learn from many great people throughout my career and Dr. Hessburg is one of my favorites,” said Bob Riney, president of healthcare operations and director of the operation of Henry Ford Health System, via email. “His passion, unwavering energy and commitment to advancing medicine and supporting great community causes are unparalleled. He loves his job, his family and his community of Grosse Pointe and never stops in his determination to make a positive difference.

Normally held on Father’s Day, this year’s EyesOn Design car show will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 19 at the grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores. Admission costs $ 30 for adults and is free for children 10 and under accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

This year’s theme is “Marks of Extinction: Meaningful Designs of Bygone Marks”. Over 250 unique vehicles, including the 1930 Viking Eight created by Oldsmobile and an original unrestored black Pontiac GTO Judge convertible from 1969, will be on display.

“The caliber of cars that the show brings is unparalleled,” said Pecar Lightbody. “We are a design-driven trade fair. There is no other show (it’s) 100% design-driven.

A popular brunch – where attendees can mingle in a more intimate setting with automotive designers – will also take place on September 19, but prior reservations are required for this. EyesOn Design was launched in 1987.

For someone who has run an auto show for decades, Hessburg is surprisingly indifferent when it comes to their own set of wheels.

“My dad couldn’t care less about cars,” Hampton said with a laugh.

Hessburg said driverless cars of the future could transport a driver with vertigo not only to a hospital, but to a hospital best suited to treat the driver’s medical emergency.

“A day will come when autonomous vehicles, that is, driverless cars, will play an important role in health care,” Hessburg said.

Hessburg does not hesitate to thank the many volunteers who make EyesOn Design possible.

“We’ve gone further than you might think a small organization could do,” Hessburg said of DIO.

And through the relationships he has established and the work he has done to bring together a diverse group of medical researchers and automotive designers, Hessburg has paved the way for a world where vehicles will do more than transport people, and where the blind and visually impaired will be able to see.

“He’s a helper, he’s a donor, he’s a restorer,” said Pecar Lightbody. “There is no shortage of people who have turned to him for his expertise, and he pursues a resolution for people in every way he can.”

For brunch tickets or more information on EyesOn Design, visit



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