A giant of the dry eye community
Dr. Frank J. Holly passed away January 16, 2022. I had unfortunately lost touch with Dr. Holly over the years and am grateful to Lynn W., a longtime reader who recently reached out to share this.
My first memories of Dr. Holly are from his participation in online forums in the early 2000's, not long after I had LASIK. If memory serves, we first met on the SurgicalEyes forum, which was an extraordinary resource and lifeline for many people hosted by Ron Link and his advocacy colleagues. Later, Dr. Holly kindly participated in the D'Eyealogues forum (hosted on my LaserMyEye nonprofit website, another distant memory!) and then on Dry Eye Talk, which was the forum on DryEyeZone that I started in 2005 and which is now part of nonprofit Dry Eye Foundation. For about a year, Dr. Holly hosted a Q&A about tear film physiology and pathophysiology on Dry Eye Talk.
Dr. Holly was a remarkable scientist and a very kind man. He reached out to assist our community struggling with dry eye and eye pain after eye surgeries, helping us one on one to understand more about dry eye - long before dry eye was "a thing", long before corneal neuropathy was "a thing", and long before the dry eye industry had begun spouting new products.
Dr. Holly's most memorable contribution to the dry eye community was his series of high oncotic pressure eyedrops, which, while exceptionally effective at addressing severe dry eye pain and other symptoms, were very carefully formulated to be compliant with the FDA's OTC ophthalmic monograph so that they could be as accessible as possible (i.e. neither having to go through the formidable drug approval processes, nor costing the earth). That was actually a very interesting feat and involved sourcing ingredients whose complexity (when you get into the types/grades) bely their apparent simplicity as listed under "Drug Facts".
At the time, these eye drops were called Dwelle, Dakrina, NutraTear and APL-105 - but our community referred to them affectionately as "Dr. Holly's Drops". I still consider it a travesty that these eye drops were not ever taken up by a major pharmaceutical company; they were a great loss to the community. A variation of APL-105 is currently on the market, though, under the name FreshKote, and is known and appreciated by many. Alas that the others are long gone.
When I was in England, pregnant with Chaidie, one year post-LASIK and struggling mightily with constant eye pain while still working full-time, it was Dr. Holly's Dakrina eye drops that first taught me what might be like to actually get my eye pain under control. They were the first thing that helped me sleep through the night - before that, it was ointment and plastic wrap. Later, as a scleral lens user, NutraTear became my drop of choice. The drops were being made in small batches at a compounding pharmacy in Texas.
I incorporated the Dry Eye Company in late 2004 specifically to try to bring "Dr. Holly's Drops" back to market after they had been discontinued. The products were hampered by many things like expired or near-expired patents! - However, we managed to get Dwelle, Dakrina and NutraTear manufactured several times over, and the Dry Eye Shop distributed them for several years before having to give it up, during which time the Shop gradually morphed into a home for everything except eyedrops.
In retrospect, what I attempted seems so foolhardy - I had neither the capital nor the skills nor the connections to make a real go of it - and I was truly sorry to disappoint Dr. Holly by the lack of success. But I will never regret trying, and I know many people were helped by these eye drops while they lasted. For myself, I have still never met a match for NutraTear, Dakrina or Dwelle.
I have fond memories of meeting Dr. Holly in person in 2006, when he became one of the speakers at a small patient conference that we hosted in Tampa.
The mind of a tear scientist, directed by a heart of compassion. I will always remember you, Dr. Holly.