From India with Love
After more than six decades of courage, care, and giving back, Dr. Mohan Merchea and his family are creating an award to support ophthalmology residents at St. Joseph’s
“My father was a physician and I wanted to be a physician right from day one.” That’s Dr. Mohan Merchea, reflecting on his early life in India. He entered medical school in Gwalior, India in 1959, graduated in 1964, and immediately joined the Indian army when India and Pakistan went to war over the disputed Kashmir region.
On the frontlines
It wasn’t an easy time to serve. The fighting was intense and the types of battle tactics were brutal. Dr. Merchea was on active service as a combat medic during that time. “I’m extremely proud of my service in the military,” he says today. “I’ve seen the toughest possible life in war zones. It gives you a different perspective, and more strength.”
A new life in Canada
In 1974, Dr. Merchea, his wife Kanta, and their young son immigrated to Canada and arrived in London. Dr. Adam Linton, then Chief of Medicine at Victoria Hospital, offered him a residency in nephrology. Two years later, he began a residency in ophthalmology, launching his practice in 1980.
Dr. Merchea became an expert in fitting contact lenses and his practice focused extensively on both laser surgery and cataract surgery. In 2004 he was named director of the cataract suite at the Ivey Eye Institute. When he completed his last cataract surgery in 2018, it marked 50 years since the first time he had done the procedure. “I’ve seen all kinds of surgeries being done, from some very primitive ones in the camps in India, to procedures with the most sophisticated equipment at Ivey.”
Giving back: supporting the next generation of surgeons
Along with his busy practice, Dr. Merchea made time to return to India every year to train ophthalmologists, deliver supplies, and perform surgery on low-income patients. Here in London, he and his wife Kanta are leaders in the Hindu community. They led the creation of the first Hindu Cultural Centre Temple, which opened in 1991. He also played a key role in the $1.8M expansion completed in 2020.
Earlier this year, the Merchea family gathered to discuss how they could make a lasting impact here at St. Joseph’s. “This community has given everything to us,” says Dr. Merchea. “When we came to this country, I had $8 in my pocket, and a wife and child to support. I’ve worked hard and I’ve also been exceptionally lucky.”
With a personal understanding of the challenge’s residents face in the early days of their career, Dr. Merchea and his family have committed $100,000 to an endowed fund created by St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation to offset costs for ophthalmology residents. Kanta says the decision to create an award was easy. “God has given us enough,” she says. “We are enjoying our life. I always go along with Mohan if he wants to do something for the betterment of the community.”
It was, she adds, a family decision, involving their three children, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and even their 18-year-old granddaughter. The new award will recognize the academic excellence of a fourth or fifth- year ophthalmology resident and provide funds for the recipient to offset the cost of an elective course.