Canadian surgeons transform eye care in Costa Rica

The team of faculty, residents and fellows from Canada, along with Costa Rican surgeons. (Photo: Courtesy Alonso Gutierrez)
The team of faculty, residents and fellows from Canada, along with Costa Rican surgeons. (Photo: Courtesy Alonso Gutierrez)

Dr. Allan Slomovic and his colleagues are on a mission.

Dr. Slomovic, a cornea surgeon and clinician investigator at UHN’s Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, along with fellow University of Toronto (U of T) faculty Drs. Amandeep Rai and Randal Ulate, seven years ago co-founded an annual teaching and surgical mission to Costa Rica.

Every year, they bring a group of surgical fellows and senior residents to Costa Rica, to train local ophthalmologists, and to perform various eye surgeries, including cataracts, corneal transplants, oculoplastics and pterygium surgeries, in the Central American country of about five million people.

This year, three staff, three residents and one cornea fellow, all from UHN’s Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute and the U of T’s Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences, joined the trip, which took place at a local hospital in the city of Puntarenas, where more than 2,000 patients are currently on the wait list for an eye surgery.

The team performed a record-breaking number of surgeries – 190 – over the course of four days.

“Some of these patients have waited for up to six to seven years for a cataract surgery,” says, Dr. Slomovic. “Knowing that we are able to help them to see again is incredibly rewarding.”

A cataract is when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy and is a common eye disease among the older population.

Currently, more than 2.5 million Canadians are living with cataracts. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Canada, but in Costa Rica, due to the lack of professional-trained specialists and low surgical capacity, the surgery backlog is severe.

Dr. Slomovic aims to use his knowledge and experience to fill the gap.

In addition to performing the procedures, Dr. Slomovic’s team also teaches local physicians and residents.

“Our goal is not to just give them the fish, but to teach them how to fish,” says Dr. Slomovic.

“It’s all about training the next generation of surgeons.”

‘Dr. Slomovic is a wonderful mentor’

In addition to treating patients and doing research, Dr. Slomovic holds the Vice-Chair Education at the U of T’s Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences.

Over the years, he has mentored and trained many residents and fellows from all over the world, such as Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

Dr. Alonso Gutierrez, a Costa Rican ophthalmologist, was one of the “lucky” ones to land one of the coveted two-year fellowships with Dr. Slomovic, which many consider the most comprehensive cornea fellowship in the world.

With most of the ophthalmology fellowships being one year, this two-year fellowship offers fellows with more hands-on medical and surgical training, to better prepare them for their future practices.

Their story started five years ago, where Dr. Gutierrez, at the time a senior resident in Costa Rica, had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Slomovic and the team during their annual surgical mission to Nicoya, a small town near the country’s Pacific coast.

“Dr. Slomovic is a wonderful mentor. I’ve learned so much from him, both professionally and personally,” says Dr. Gutierrez. “He is caring and always willing to help in Costa Rica.”

Upon completing his two-year fellowship, Dr. Gutierrez will return to Costa Rica and work as a cornea subspecialist.

“This is a life-changing experience,” says Dr. Gutierrez.

“Not just for me, but also for my future patients and my country.”

In addition to treating patients in Costa Rica, Dr. Gutierrez also wants to follow Dr. Slomovic’s path and mentor residents.

“I want to teach them everything I’ve learned here,” says Dr. Gutierrez. “It’s all about sharing the knowledge and giving back to my community.”

For the future, Dr. Slomovic is hoping to continue with his international missions with the possibility of expanding to other developing countries, training surgeons in Canada, delivering excellent patient care, giving back to the community, and helping to advance medical and surgical treatments around the world.

By Sara Yuan

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing on our site, you accept use of cookies. For more information, please visit our privacy policy.


Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Instagram YouTube