Real-life Connection Found Between Helen Keller’s ‘Miracle Worker’ Teacher and The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary

From left: Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly Thomson circa 1931, when “Teacher” Anne Sullivan was under the care NYEE’s Dr. Berens.Anne Sullivan Macy, the teacher who played a pivotal role in Helen Keller’s real life as well as the play, The Miracle Worker, was a long-time patient of Dr. Conrad Berens, one of the nation’s leading ophthalmologists and a surgeon director of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. In 1929 Dr. Berens operated on Ms. Sullivan at NYEE to help relieve chronic ocular pain.

"She is never free from pain," Helen [Keller] wrote Effendi shortly before the operation, and added that he could well imagine her (Helen's) dread of anything happening to Annie if she considered how "necessary she is to my happiness, how all these years she has helped me with her counsel and encouragement."

"In youth I would have gone round the world for a compliment. Now
I am indifferent."--Teacher.

“Teacher's flawed and failing eyesight had shadowed her whole adult existence, from the time it had been restored to her while she was a student at Perkins.

“When Teacher finally was persuaded to go to Dr. Berens, he was shocked by her account of the long series of operations on her eyes, some almost amateurish.

“He put off operating on her remaining eye, as he knew he would have to do. A cataract was growing over it, but the cornea was paper thin from previous operations, and he was determined not to operate on her remaining eye until she was practically blind, especially as there was little chance that she would come out of it with any sight at all.

“He had developed a lively admiration for his patient, traveled almost daily out to Forest Hills in bad times and refused to charge her a cent.”

Source: Teacher, Helen Keller’s book about Annie Sullivan

Conrad Berens, MD (1889-1963) was a corneal specialist and surgeon director at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.  He is still world-renowned for excellence in clinical practice, teaching and research at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Thank you to Steven A. McCormick, MD, director of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, for highlighting this footnote to NYEE’s history on the occasion of our recent theater benefit at The Miracle Worker.

Media Information

If you are a reporter seeking an interview with a doctor at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, please contact Jean Thomas, at (212) 979-4274. 

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