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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Dr. Abdul Mateen Ahmed, The Glaucoma Valve Inventor: A Genuine Role Model

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

He is in the League of Great Inventors and Scientists, yet you will not find much written about him online or in books. Hundreds of thousands worldwide suffering from glaucoma get relief from his product. Yet, his neighbors in his small town in Southern California or his community do not know much about him. Researchers have read papers on Ahmed's glaucoma valve at worldwide ophthalmology conferences in his presence, yet he rarely introduced himself to the audience. Even when he is in the exhibition hall of such meetings, welcoming the visitors to his booth, he rarely mentions that he is the inventor and scientist behind this product. His invention goes to 120 countries, offering hope to over 80 million patients.

The company he established introduces him as a young professor inundated with patients suffering from onchocerciasis who dedicated himself to alleviating ophthalmic ailments. Dr. Abdul Mateen Ahmed founded New World Medical and introduced the Ahmed Glaucoma Valve (AGV). It comprises two thin silicone elastomer membranes in a Venturi-shaped chamber. Ten years ago, he quietly handed over the reign of his private company to his son-in-law, Bilal Khan. He assured him of non-interference in its future or growth. The company he founded after leaving his job at Cal Poly, Pomona, CA, with the help of two other partners, now employs 200 people from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

With medical studies, a doctorate in engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, 14 years as a professor on three continents (Asia, Africa, and the Americas), and over 100 academic papers, Dr. Ahmed holds over 20 U.S. patents and inventions. One would rarely find him talking of his bigger-than-life stature.

Glaucoma causes excessive fluid buildup in a tiny space called the anterior chamber behind the eye cornea. The fluid pressure forces the eyeball behind the cornea to push back against the optic nerve, gradually resulting in nerve damage and blindness. It causes irreversible blindness to millions in the United States and the world. Three million Americans live with glaucoma, including 2.7 million aged 40 and older.

Eighty million people worldwide have glaucoma. The number will increase to over 111 million by 2040. It costs the U.S. economy $2.86 billion annually. African Americans and Hispanics form major ethnic groups as its victims in the U.S. Studies suggest that in the U.S., the primary type of glaucoma, called open-angle glaucoma, strikes African Americans and Hispanics at higher rates than other ethnic groups.

Born in Wani in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, Dr. Ahmed comes from a distinguished family of administrators and farmers. His younger brother, Dr. Abdul Razzaq Ahmed, is a famous dermatologist associated with Harvard University, and his sisters, Shabeeha, Akhtar, Nayyar Jahan, Anwar and Rana achieved the highest degrees in their field of study. His wife, Rafat Ahmed, is an attorney by training. His son, Omar Ahmed, is a software engineer, and his daughter, Omrana Ahmed, is an architect. Twenty-two of his cousins are physicians, with scores of engineers and medical professional grandchildren. His family stood like a solid rock behind him, supporting him every inch of his dream.

Dr. Ahmed was the sixth child and the first son of his parents. He and his siblings credit their mother—Noor Jahan Begum, for their upbringing and education. Even though she had a primary education, she knew the importance of education. Rather than forcing her children to pursue higher education, she inspired them to shape their educational destiny through their efforts. She ensured all her children received the best education. She was a remarkable woman who, besides raising a large family, also managed the farms her husband had left behind.

In the 1950s, Wani had few schools, and the literacy rate was poor. With less than a 15 percent literacy rate and almost no tradition of higher education, Dr. Ahmed's mother's priority was her children's education. She explored every opportunity to find the best schools for her children. She also worked to uplift laborers and farmers' families in her area. Dr. Ahmed's family now runs several educational institutions in Wani and neighboring villages for low-income people and those in need.

Dr. Ahmed's philosophy of life and work revolves around a simple but profound concept: "Do things that help humanity." It's a message that reverberates in the invention of every scientist. His life is its living testimony; otherwise, who cares for humanity divided into many ethnicities and religions in a fast-moving world where most are concerned about their interests? Hundreds of young professionals in the U.S., India, and elsewhere would tell about his family's quiet financial and moral support in pursuing their dreams. Many are now successful business people, many engineers and physicians.

Helping the humanity concept covers even those who did not know him earlier.

On a rain-soaked day on a busy California freeway, you do not stop to help a stranded car on the shoulder. But Dr. Ahmed stopped and stayed until the help came, and the tow took the vehicle to the mechanic. He even paid for the repair because the family did not have the money. Most people may ignore the request of a needy in a mosque to help his family out in the street and distressed. However, he opened his resources to them whenever he encountered such families.

His philosophy motivates him to care for the sick, the poor, and the needy without expecting anything in return. His family shares his philosophy and follows in his footsteps.

No wonder, his family and company keep on receiving divine blessings. The quality of a successful individual is not in their ability to generate money, but in using whatever they have to improve the lives of those around them. It is the essence of life. In the scriptures of Islam, the Quran, one reads:

لَـٰكِنِ ٱلرَّسُولُ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ مَعَهُۥ جَـٰهَدُوا۟ بِأَمْوَٰلِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمُ ٱلْخَيْرَٰتُ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ

The Apostle, however, and all who share his faith strive hard [in God's cause] with their possessions and their lives: and it is they whom the most excellent things await [in the life to come], and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! (At-Tauba (The Repentance, 9:88)

فَـَٔاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ وَٱلْمِسْكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَ ٱللَّهِ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ

Hence, give his due to the near of kin, as well as to the needy and the wayfarer; this is best for all who seek God's countenance: for it is they that shall attain a happy state! (Ar-Rum, The Romans, 30:38)

فَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا ٱسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَٱسْمَعُوا۟ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ وَأَنفِقُوا۟ خَيْرًا لِّأَنفُسِكُمْ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِۦ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ

Remain conscious of God as best you can, listen [to Him], and pay heed. And spend in charity for the good of yourselves: for, such as from their covetousness are saved, "it is they that shall attain to a happy state! (At-Taghabun, Loss and Gain, 64:16)

Dr. Ahmed acknowledges this divine writ and credits the Creator as the source of all his ideas and accomplishments. He identifies him as an instrument in the grand scheme of God. Those who benefit from his invention and generosity testify that. He does not advertise his achievements or enumerate his numerous contributions to building hospitals worldwide, opening educational institutions, or supporting orphans and widows. Instead, he always expresses his gratitude to the Creator for all the blessings and motivation to share them with others. His faith in the creator is absolute. He had unwavering conviction in the will of God when he had nothing in his wallet and when he got resources beyond imagination. This faith endowed him with the rare quality of helping humanity. He leads a simple life. Humility is evident in his demeanor, and contentment is his pride. He, indeed, is one of those who are genuinely successful as defined by none other than the Creator. He is a role model for the generations to come. Through his hard work, invention, humility, and generosity, he offers a style of life that provides the best in this life and the life hereafter, as Muslims believe.

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