Dream maker

Dr. Mohan Merchea and Dr. Gaya Sivakumar sitting together.

Long-time St. Joseph’s physician Dr. Mohan Merchea is helping ophthalmology residents find their passion.

Dr. Gaya Sivakumar and her husband Rikin packed up their one-year-old daughter and boarded a flight to India for a learning experience that would change the ophthalmology resident’s life and career.

“I was interested in exploring how I might use the tools I have as an ophthalmologist to improve the eye health of people living in rural and developing countries and to see if I saw a future career in global health,” Dr. Sivakumar explains.

But the cost of spending a month abroad left her feeling uncertain that she could make it happen.

A $100,000 gift from long-time St. Joseph’s ophthalmologist Dr. Mohan Merchea changed that.

In 2022, Dr. Merchea and his wife, Kanta, endowed The Dr. Mohan and Mrs. Kanta Merchea Award of Excellence in Ophthalmology to help senior ophthalmology residents pursue electives in global ophthalmology, cataract surgery or contact lens care. Dr. Merchea’s family encouraged him to make the gift after hearing the stories of his own financial struggles as an ophthalmology resident getting by on $600 a month in the 1970s.

“I saw a sea change in practice during my 50 years as an ophthalmologist, but what hasn’t changed are the pressures residents face. I wanted to do something to help bright learners accelerate their learning,” Dr. Merchea says.

Old photo of the Merchea family
The Merchea family generously established a fund to support ophthalmology residents to pursue their educational goals.

Dr. Sivakumar was named the inaugural Merchea Award recipient in 2023. She used the award to help fund a month-long elective at India’s L.V. Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI). A World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for the Prevention of Blindness, LVPEI provides quality eye care services, most of them free, to people who don’t have regular access to an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Seeing upwards of 100 patients a day in clinics in Hyderabad and in rural villages across southern India, the St. Joseph’s resident learned how to operate in low-resource settings and care for patients with complex conditions she had previously only seen in a textbook. She practised small manual incision cataract surgery, for example, a unique surgical technique to address advanced cataracts, an approach not commonly taught in North America.

When Dr. Sivakumar returned to St. Joseph’s in February, she brought with her new surgical skills, an extended network of ophthalmology colleagues and a passion for global health that includes helping solve inequities in eye health abroad and at home in Canada’s rural and northern communities.

“The opportunity I was granted from this award has underscored why I love ophthalmology and has fueled a desire to volunteer in communities burdened by eye disease,” Dr. Sivakumar says. “I’m so grateful to Dr. Merchea and Mrs. Kanta. Because of them, generations of surgical trainees will have the same opportunity to tap into their professional passions.”

"I wanted to do something to help bright learners accelerate their learning.”

– Dr. Mohan Merchea

Read more from the 2023-24 Community Impact Report

Back to all Stories