Jerry and Heather
Canadian business leaders Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman more than a decade ago established a Fellowship Fund, which has helped support 16 Israeli fellows at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute at Toronto Western Hospital. (Photo: Courtesy Nick Wons, Weizmann Canada)

As people mark the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence, the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute is proud to celebrate a tremendous partnership established with Israel.

Nowhere is this special relationship more apparent than the Corneal Fellowship Program co-directed by the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute's Drs. David Rootman and Allan Slomovic. 

The Corneal Fellowship Program was founded 30 years ago, and draws aspiring specialists from around the world, hungry for the opportunity to learn from the best. Many fellows come from Israel.

"The fellowship is divided into four six-month terms: one working with Dr. Slomovic, one under my direction, one focused on research and one focused on laser surgery," says Dr. Rootman. "It's quite intensive and the fellows are kept very busy – but that's what they come here for." 

Because the fellowship spans two years, fellows receive a complete training experience that would typically require two fellowships to accomplish.  

"For individuals who are still early in their careers, it's rare to have the opportunity to participate in such a high volume of corneal and laser surgeries," says Dr. Slomovic. "It's not only the volume of patients, but also their complexity.  

"Fellows get to experience pretty much everything here." 

Everybody wins 

The fellowship ultimately helps both countries: Canada benefits from fellows bringing new perspectives and ideas here, while fellows bring new knowledge back to Israel to advance patient care there. 

Today, about 80 per cent of cornea and laser surgery specialists in Israel were trained at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute by Drs. Rootman and Slomovic. 

Professor Irit Bahar, Director of the Ophthalmology Department at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, is one. 

"My experience at one of the world's top cornea centres, and being mentored by Drs. Rootman and Slomovic, enabled me to bring my knowledge and skills back to Israel and to apply them to help my fellow countrymen," says Prof. Bahar. 

Using skills gained at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, Prof. Bahar helped to establish a new osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis (OOKP) practice at her medical centre last year. OOKP is a procedure that restores vision in the most severe cases of corneal and ocular surface patients. 

"We recently operated on our  first individual: a 70-year-old woman who lost her vision eight years ago," Prof. Bahar says. "When we removed the bandaging, she could recognize faces and read for the  first time in a decade.  

"It was one of those moments that I'll cherish and made me proud of what we can do as ophthalmologists." 

Donors make it possible 

To support fellows coming from Israel, Canadian business leaders Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman established the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Fellowship Fund. For more than a decade, the fund has helped support 16 Israeli fellows.  

"We're thrilled to support Drs. Rootman and Slomovic as they train the future leaders of ophthalmology in Israel," says Mr. Schwartz. 

"This program enriches both Canadian and Israeli society, which is of deep importance to Heather and me. It is wonderful to see the relationships between Israelis and Canadians that are built through this program and sustained over the long term." ​

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