Isaac Messinger being presented with a certificate of appreciation last year for his contributions to the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Beit Halochem. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
Isaac Messinger was born in Poland in 1929 and spent some of his early years in Siberia. Although his family tried to flee back to Poland when he was 12 years old, he ended up alone and orphaned in Russia and has spent the years since then living a very colourful life.
Among the notable moments, Messinger worked as a cowboy on horseback, chauffeur to a Polish officer, in a garage, as a prizefighter, a soccer player, a tinsmith and a traveling carnie with a roulette wheel. And he still had time to open a steakhouse and deal in diamonds, while lending money to some of the original landowners along the Las Vegas Strip.
Messinger has long been a strong supporter of Israel and he is currently focused on funding a project of JNF Canada that works with Israeli veterans, a special fitness centre at Beit Halochem Ashdod.
At first glance, the fitness centre at Beit Halochem looks like any other fitness club. There are lots of people working out on the equipment, weight training and stretching. Upon closer examination though, the difference is quite clear. Not only is much of the equipment and machinery slightly different, but the members are as well. Here, veterans young and old, with a wide spectrum of disabilities, come to improve their strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. They exercise side by side, some on special equipment designed for wheelchair access or amputee-specific machines, and there are trainers on hand to explain and assist the veterans.
The physical rehabilitation aspects of working out in the fitness centre are clear to all. Less obvious is the psychological benefit that the disabled vets get from taking an active role in their rehabilitation.
Donna Karan’s Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes will speak to many people. (photo from fashionmodeldirectory.com)
With the sun finally out for days running, spring has truly sprung. We can now satisfy the urge to take out our colours from the back of our closets. That bright pink silk blouse in its garment bag is once more seeing the light. Whatever the current look may be, nothing compares to feeling at home in our classics; those pieces that are, at least to us, forever “in.”
In 1985, Donna Karan introduced to the world of fashion the “Essential Line.” In her first private collection, there were seven simple pieces that continue to be timeless. These include the oversize sweater, a bodysuit, jersey dresses, Lycra tights (no longer just for exercise class), a white shirt, loose trousers and a tailored jacket. Over the years, she would incorporate new pieces, in her go-to favourite colour, black.
Karan, born Donna Ivy Faske, in 1948 in New York, was raised by a fashion-model mother and suit-designer stepfather – she was practically destined to have a lifelong career in fashion. The many awards she has received are but one proof of her talent for it.
At the age of 14, Karan quit school and embarked into that world, working in a boutique. At 20, she was accepted into the renowned Parsons School of Design. After graduating, she became, at 26 years old, head designer of the Anne Klein fashion house.
In 1984, Karan divorced her first husband, Mark Karan, and married Stephen Weiss. With full force, she began her own label. The line was geared to “design modern clothes for modern people.” She wanted to create clothing that she herself would wear and in which she would feel comfortable.
After dressing the likes of her best friend, Barbra Streisand, many A-list Hollywood stars and high-powered women in politics, Karan launched a new brand in 1988, DKNY, a line of less-expensive clothing. Seventeen years later, her business expanded into a men’s fashion line, fragrances, bedding. She also wrote a memoir, The Journey of a Woman: 20 Years of Donna Karan, among other accomplishments.
Karan’s Urban Zen came to fruition in 2001. While watching her beloved husband lose his battle to lung cancer and experiencing the sale of her empire to the multinational LVMH (where she stayed on as head designer until 2015), Karan learned that everyone must “find their calm in the chaos around the world.”
Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes speaks to many people.
Karan believes it is fundamental to blend Eastern healing together with Western science. While watching her husband undergo chemotherapy, Karan found mediation, yoga, acupuncture and other holistic remedies essential for healing, and for acquiring some sense of inner peace. She built a harmonious sanctuary in the hospital where her husband was being treated, Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York. The sanctuary is a place for patients, loved ones and staff to go to recover from broken spirits and find solace. Its philosophy and practices have helped ease suffering to such a degree that, now, many hospitals and hospices have adopted its methods. The concepts are taught to doctors and nurses through Karan’s foundation, UZIT, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program.
On a personal level, this fashionista-writer, who has always loved and appreciated the fun of fashion, also experienced an “aha” moment while researching this article. Being a cancer survivor and having overcome some unwanted surprises life has thrown my way, this spring, I am determined to embrace perfecting my downward dog as much as finding my new bag – devoting time to practising gratitude and investing in my most important asset, me. My tranquility and health are more important than any blouse.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
On the 14th floor of Edmonton’s Our Parents’ Home, one can enjoy panoramic views. (photo from OPH)
In 2015, Edmonton opened Our Parents’ Home (OPH), still the only kosher seniors home between Winnipeg and Vancouver. OPH offers 80 independent living suites and 50 Alberta Health Services supportive-living units.
Lesley Jacobson assisted Irving Kipnes on the project for more than a decade, until recently retiring.
Jacobson grew up in Sydney, Australia. She made her way to Calgary in the early 1970s, a place she called home for 27 years, before moving to Edmonton some 20 years ago. “I was always involved in [Jewish] federations in some way or the other,” she told the Independent.
About 12 years ago, Jacobson began working for Delcon Development, which was founded by Kipnes.
“Irv is one of the major proponents of this [OPH] project, and has been on the committee working to develop this facility for over 20 years,” said Jacobson.
The project was incorporated as a nonprofit organization under the Society Act of Canada in 1996, and obtained a charitable number from Revenue Canada that same year.
“It wasn’t until about a dozen years ago, after fundraising and much discussion about what the project should entail that the committee determined to move ahead,” said Jacobson. “Irv took the lead in that, and started investigating sites and plans seriously.”
The committee included Jewish community members who felt it was important that Edmonton have a facility that caters to the needs of Jewish seniors.
It took several false starts before a site was secured, detailed drawings were developed and a $6 million grant was secured under the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative of the Alberta government at the time. Construction began in 2012 in a prime location on Jasper Avenue, at the corner of 119th Street, next door to Beth Shalom Synagogue.
The original name chosen was the Hebrew, Beit Horim, which means Our Parents’ Home. “Once we started building and dealing with contractors, banks, etc. … many of the non-Jewish professionals who we were working with had trouble with the pronunciation…. So, we dropped the Beit Horim and just became Our Parents’ Home,” said Jacobson.
While the residence caters to Jewish seniors wanting a place to live where they can keep kosher, the home does offer menu options for people of all religions and has a non-kosher kitchen as well.
At press time, there were 17 independent living suites available (one- and two-bedroom apartments), while the supportive-living space – the units overseen by Alberta Health Services – was running at full capacity.
“They have a two-year waiting list of people trying to get into the supportive-living space,” said Jacobson. “If someone needs to be in assisted living, wants to be at OPH and they are Jewish, we try to get them to the top of the list. But, we have no control over that, because it’s mandated and controlled by Alberta Health Services…. On the independent living side of things, people are self-sufficient. The rent includes 20 meals per month, so people have that option … while those living in supportive care are provided with all meals and snacks.”
The home’s 50 supportive-living units cover three floors, which are staffed by care personnel 24/7. The two memory care floors are secured, so residents cannot leave those levels unless accompanied by someone with a fob. A third floor is for residents in need of care but with no memory issues.
Since the facility is open to the general public, regardless of religion, there are varied faith-based offerings. While there is a rabbi-led Shabbat service offered on the third Friday of each month, there is also hymn singing once a month led by a non-Jewish chaplain and a variety of other programs.
“We had beautiful seder [last] year and several non-Jewish residents of our community came, because they were interested,” said Jacobson. “People can come to whatever program they wish.”
Jacobson, while not on staff at OPH, worked with the staff to ensure the place became all that it was intended to be by the other committee members.
“It was exciting to be on the committee designing the building, to sit with the architects and interior designers,” said Jacobson. “We chose designs and fabric for the furniture, picked colours and selected the china and silverware. It was a pleasure to facilitate meetings with such dedicated and enthusiastic board members.”
According to Jacobson, when you walk into the OPH building, “it’s like walking into a boutique hotel. It doesn’t look like an old folks’ building. We have modern art on all the walls and, from the common rooms on the 14th floor, one can enjoy panoramic views of downtown Edmonton and the beautiful river valley. You walk into the dining room and it’s like walking into a first-class restaurant … linens on the tables to complement the china – no paper napkins.
“Seniors come here to live, not to die,” she stressed. “During the summertime, we take people from the memory care floors to walk in the neighbourhood, through the green streets. There are many activities designed to physically, socially and intellectually stimulate our memory care residents.
“Our independent residents live the lives they’ve always lived – they go to the opera or ballet, the gym, to their friends and to family. If they need a ride, we have a car that will take them. They live independent lives and, as a plus, enjoy all the extra activities provided – the book club, bridge club, fitness room, movies, social programs, etc.
“The people who have been involved are to be commended for their vision and enthusiasm,” said Jacobson. “Special credit needs to go to Tulane Rollingher, who conceived the idea in the very beginning, way back in the 1990s, of having a Jewish home. She was the very first person to start getting this group together.”
Canadian Hadassah-WIZO’s 2018 annual campaign, Come Together, Right Now, began on March 1 in support of various CHW projects. This pillar of CHW’s fundraising efforts provides $1.5 million in support of children, healthcare and women in Israel and Canada.
CHW is a non-political, nonpartisan national network of dedicated volunteers and professionals who believe that the advancement of childcare, education, healthcare and women’s issues transcends politics, religion and national boundaries.
Over the last century, CHW has been involved in all aspects of Israeli life, supporting women, children and families around the world. CHW’s support has strengthened, and continues to strengthen, the very fabric of Israeli society.
“I can give you 161,453 reasons to be proud of being a donor to Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW),” said Debbie Eisenberg, CHW national president. “It’s really quite simple: this is the number of lives CHW positively impacted in Israel just this past year. This is the difference you made through your generous support of CHW.”
“For me, the theme for this year’s annual campaign encompasses everything that our supporters do for CHW,” said Alina Ianson, CHW national executive director. “Each person has their own reason for supporting the work of CHW, but when we come together, we make a statement about our belief in endorsing the mission of CHW.”
For information on the projects CHW supports, and to contribute to the Come Together, Right Now campaign, visit chw.ca.
The way a society treats its most vulnerable speaks volumes about its principles. There are few more vulnerable than those reaching the end of life. The physical, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual challenges confronted at life’s end are immense. Just as we expect our healthcare system to be there for us throughout our lives, so too must it support each of us – and our families – as we enter life’s final chapter.
Palliative care is a policy issue that has the potential to touch every family across the country. According to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, only 15% to 30% of patients approaching the end of life have access to palliative care. With Canada’s population continuing to age, existing shortfalls in the system will only grow in the coming years.
While the federal government has taken the vital step of announcing additional federal funds for home care and palliative care, more can be done to ensure that no patient seeking palliative care is denied. This is why the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has taken a lead role in mobilizing an interfaith coalition to urge Ottawa to take action on this issue.
Working with Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim allies, CIJA’s efforts achieved a key milestone in late 2017, when Parliament passed Bill C-277. This bill, which received strong support from MPs across party lines, called for the establishment of a national palliative care strategy. Our next step is to ensure that the national strategy that flows from Bill C-277 strengthens end-of-life care for all Canadians.
For this reason, in partnership with others, CIJA is organizing an expert working group to provide us with advice regarding Canada’s national palliative care strategy. An essential portion of these suggestions will be based on the patient and family experience, which is why I invite every reader to consider whether they have personal insights they can share with us.
Can you attest to the importance of high-quality palliative care, perhaps having had a loved one who received excellent end-of-life care? Or, do you have a family member who, despite seeking it, was unable to access appropriate hospice or palliative care? We want to hear your stories – and government policymakers need to hear how these policies affect real lives. Email [email protected] to share your experiences with palliative care.
It is an extraordinary act of chesed to care for a person in their final days of life. Our healthcare system, in which Canadians rightly take pride as evidence of our nation’s innate sense of kindness, must do better to ensure that those who need palliative care are never denied this essential service.
Steve McDonaldis director, policy and strategic communications, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Attendees engaged with panelists, left to right, Drs. Eric Cadesky, Brian Bressler and Jennifer Melamed at a Kollel event Jan. 29. (photo from Kollel)
A small but passionate group gathered at the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel Jan. 29 to engage with Drs. Brian Bressler, Eric Cadesky and Jennifer Melamed on the topic of Canadian Health Care Challenges Through the Jewish Lens, which focused on the legalization of marijuana, the treatment of addiction, the practice of harm reduction, the opioid crisis and medical assistance in dying (MAiD).
Cadesky, who chaired and moderated the event, is a family doctor in Vancouver and president-elect of Doctors of B.C.; until last summer, he was also medical coordinator at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, a position he held for some eight years. Bressler is a gastroenterologist at St. Paul’s Hospital and a clinical assistant professor in the University of British Columbia’s department of medicine, while Melamed is co-owner of the Alliance Clinic, an addiction services facility in Surrey.
Bressler framed the conversation in terms of what he called the four principles of medical ethics for a healthcare provider: autonomy, respecting a patient’s choice and their right to understand and consent to treatment; beneficence, doing or recommending everything that could benefit a patient; nonmaleficence, taking into account all known risks to a patient and doing no harm, or the least amount possible, if harm is unavoiadable; and justice, making treatments available to all patients.
“I wouldn’t distinguish between those principles and Jewish ethical principles,” said Bressler. “I think they’re entirely consistent.”
Within this framework, the doctors’ dialogue with the audience took place.
One exchange was sparked by Melamed’s criticism of harm reduction clinics. “This is the dilemma we face,” she said, “is addiction insanity? Should we respect the patient’s autonomy even if the addiction has impaired that autonomy and they are not truly free to make decisions for themselves anymore because of the effects of the addiction?”
She said, “I refuse to accept harm reduction as the end result, as the highest result for my patients.”
Arguing that there “is really no such thing as a safe injection,” she said she believes such clinics are doing more harm than good.”
An audience member countered that recovery might be a realistic goal for working and middle-class patients, who have seemingly more to recover for; but, for addicts living in extreme poverty, who have a history of trauma and/or mental illness, they may not have a realistic chance of recovery. “With harm reduction, we keep them away from crime and treat them like human beings.”
The Kollel’s Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock said that, from a Jewish point of view, the community has a responsibility to do everything in its power to help a person recover. However, the question of how harm reduction clinics could go beyond their current purpose and move towards recovery was not pursued.
Discussing opioid use, Bressler expressed both a cautionary approach, based on his own practice (Crohn’s patients are at particular risk for addiction), and the opinion that it is important to focus on addressing the sources of pain, not just pain itself.
Both Bressler and Melamed were negative about the legalization of marijuana and its use in a medical setting. They said there was some evidence that marijuana was effective for a very limited number of conditions – neuropathic pain and nausea were mentioned – but that the risks of marijuana, such as cognitive impairment and a link to developing psychosis, were well-evidenced.
Melamed expressed concern about what she thinks will be the massive costs of policing marijuana intoxication, among drivers or industrial workers, for example.
When one person raised the potential of increased teen use of the drug, Melamed said teens were already using and she didn’t fear an increase, though she was concerned about the potential for increased use among adults.
Another audience member suggested the Jewish community should protest marijuana’s legalization.
The doctors took a less defined stance towards medical assistance in dying. Both Bressler and Melamed said they had personal and professional experience with it but did not take a stand in favour or against it, instead highlighting issues to consider. Bressler acknowledged the right of Canadians to MAiD but also pointed out that the practice conflicts with Jewish law.
Feigelstock said the general principle in Judaism is to prolong life but not necessarily to prevent death. “According to Jewish law, generally speaking, you may choose not to do things to prolong the life of someone who is dying,” he explained, “and you may give medicines to relieve suffering, which have the side effect of possibly shortening life, but you do not do something that will directly kill the patient. Every case must be dealt with separately, however, case by case; one cannot make general statements about what to do.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Left to right, panelists Dr. Tommy Gerschman, Dr. Thuso David and Randi Weiss at the screening of A Heartbeat Away in Vancouver on Nov. 2. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
More than 4,400 children from 55 countries in the developing world have received life-saving heart surgeries because of the efforts of volunteers associated with Save a Child’s Heart Foundation. Thousands more have been saved by doctors trained by the organization’s volunteers.
The Israel-based organization is aiming to expand its reach in British Columbia. A screening of the film A Heartbeat Away in Vancouver on Nov. 2 shared the anxious, sometimes tragic and often uplifting stories faced by medical volunteers associated with the agency.
Marni Brinder Byk, executive director of Save a Child’s Heart Canada, introduced the film and moderated a panel discussion afterward. She explained that when Vancouverite Lana Pulver joined the national board of the organization, it presented an opportunity for more on-the-ground activities in the city.
Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) has another strong Vancouver connection. Vancouverite Randi Weiss recently moved back after spending several years in Israel, where she served as a full-time volunteer with SACH.
The foundation is committed to saving children’s lives by improving the quality and accessibility of cardiac care. Israeli medical experts, and some from other countries, provide free, life-saving surgeries to children from developing countries and also train surgeons and medical teams from those countries, helping them build their own skills.
Entirely as volunteers, SACH doctors travel to Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and other parts of the Middle East to assess potential candidates. A few less urgent cases are treated on the spot, while more serious cases are transported to Israel, where the child and a parent can spend weeks or months during surgery and recovery. A new home, accommodating 61 patients, family members and medical staff, recently opened near the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, where the Save a Child’s Heart medical facilities are based.
The film depicted the heartbreaking choices doctors are forced to make during their trips abroad, as young patients whose cases are simply too advanced for an encouraging prognosis have to be rejected. But the film also follows the story of Julius, a kindergarten-age boy from Tanzania, as he travels to Israel and gets a fresh lease on life after a harrowingly complicated surgical procedure.
Weiss said that about half the kids SACH treats are from the Palestinian Authority or other places in the Middle East. About 40% are from African countries, including Ethiopia and Tanzania, she said, while others come from Romania, Moldova and wherever there is a need not being met.
Weiss was joined on the panel after the film’s screening by Dr. Thuso David, a pediatrician from Botswana who arrived in Vancouver in early August to continue his training at B.C. Children’s Hospital. He noted that, in many African countries, there are few medical specialists, so a complex medical issue like congenital or acquired heart disease is rarely treated.
Dr. Tommy Gerschman, another Vancouverite, was also on the panel. He volunteered as a medical intern for SACH in Israel a decade ago.
Save a Child’s Heart Canada was founded in Toronto in 1999 by the late A. Ephraim “Eph” Diamond. Brinder Byk said that SACH’s annual budget is about $6 million US, about one-sixth of which is provided by Save a Child’s Heart Canada. The Canadian contingent has also stepped up in a big way to help fund a new wing at the Wolfson Medical Centre designated especially for SACH’s use.
“We have a lot to be proud of as Canadians, that we will be helping that many more children and training that many more doctors,” said Brinder Byk. “The children of Israel are also going to benefit because, if they live in the catchment area of the Wolfson Medical Centre, they will be able to use their services as well.”
Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) has been a driving force in the Jewish community for 100 years. Known to many simply as Hadassah, CHW has rebranded in the last decade to be recognized for its full range of activities, using its acronym to also exemplify the work it does for children, healthcare and women in Israel.
Jewish Canadians can take great pride in the many initiatives that have come from the fundraising and determination of CHW women who have helped build the state of Israel.
One of the keystone projects CHW supports is the Hadassim Children and Youth Village, located east of Netanya. Founded in 1947 for European Jewish refugee children, it is one of the largest residential schools in Israel. The school has evolved over the years to house children as young as age 6 who could not safely remain in their homes. These children live in family units, cared for by foster parents who maintain contact with biological parents when appropriate.
With the world refugee crisis, there has been somewhat of a return for Hadassim to its original purpose. As an example, because of antisemitism, more than 60 teens from France have sought refuge at Hadassim through the Na’aleh program, according to CHW national executive director Alina Ianson.
The program, she said, “is an opportunity for Francophone youth to continue their education in their native language. The Na’aleh program has become increasingly important due to the rise of antisemitism, causing many European teenagers to seek out safety and security. CHW Hadassim gives teenagers freedom: freedom to learn, freedom to live, freedom to be Jewish. CHW Hadassim gives teenagers a home again.”
Over the past 100 years, Israel has grown from the dream of a homeland to a high-tech powerhouse. Nonetheless, pressing social issues, particularly for women and children, still exist. Healthcare has changed dramatically but the need for support is arguably more critical because, while there are more life-saving technologies, they can also be quite expensive. For this reason, CHW continues to be as relevant as ever, national president Debbie Eisenberg told the Independent.
Eisenberg highlighted the CHW Vancouver connection. “Four of CHW’s past national presidents have called Vancouver home,” she said. “These visionary past national leaders include Naomi Frankenberg, z”l, Judy Mandelman, Rochelle Levinson and Claudia Goldman. Throughout our 100 year history, CHW has certainly changed the very fabric of Israeli society by supporting essential programs and services for children, healthcare and women in Israel,” she added.
Current Vancouver centre president Stephanie Rusen is proud to head an organization that has made and continues to make such an impact on the lives of people in Israel. Rusen believes that the focus for Vancouver in CHW’s centennial year is the Hadassim Youth Village partly because it exemplifies everything that CHW does right. Those most vulnerable in Israeli society find a home at Hadassim and grow up to meet their potential as active, contributing members of Israeli society.
“CHW Hadassim has been improving the lives of children and families for the last 70 years,” said Rusen. “Many of the children who come to CHW Hadassim are escaping prejudice, persecution, and even violence. Thanks to our generous supporters, as well as the funds raised at last year’s tribute gala, the Claudia Goldman Dormitory Hey at CHW Hadassim was renovated and is now home to 60 students. These children now have a safe place to call home. CHW Vancouver proudly supports CHW Hadassim.”
Rusen has presided over many local changes in how CHW operates. The previous chapter-based format has given way to an organization that plans citywide programs for all ages and interests, while continuing its efforts to fund its projects in Israel. The local annual kick-off event was held on Sunday at the Shaughnessey Golf and Country Club. Entitled “Heroes Among Us,” the event honoured three local women, ranging in age from the mid-20s to mid-80s, who have made a difference in various aspects of the Metro Vancouver community: Courtney Cohen, Lori Yelizarov and Helen Coleman.
For more information on how to become involved with the activities of CHW, visit their website at chw.ca (look for Vancouver centre) or call the office at 604-257-5160.
Michelle Dodekis a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
Left to right: Bernard Bressler, Bill Barrable, Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jonathan Miodowski, Dina Wachtel, the Hon. Bruce Ralston and Rick Glumac. (photo from Rick Hansen Institute)
On Aug. 25 in Vancouver, the Rick Hansen Institute (RHI) announced a new partnership with the Hebrew University’s Alexander Grass Centre for Bioengineering. The first of its kind in the world, this partnership will fast-track the development of products designed to improve the lives of people who have been devastated by spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Bioengineering uses scientific concepts and methods to find practical, cost-effective solutions to problems in the life sciences. Researchers investigate ways to regenerate damaged tissue, grow new organs or mimic the systems and processes of the human body with synthetic tools. In the case of individuals with SCI, this means combating the paralysis caused by a serious injury.
According to the RHI, in British Columbia alone, there are 12,000 people living with an SCI. “The economic burden is an estimated $372 million a year for new traumatic spinal cord injuries: this figure includes direct healthcare (59%) as well as indirect morbidity and mortality related (41%) costs,” says the RHI. “Secondary complications such as pressure ulcers, neuropathic pain, urinary tract infections and pneumonia cost an estimated $70 million in direct costs to B.C.’s healthcare system annually.”
The Grass Centre’s Biodesign program teaches researchers, business and bioengineering graduates how to make medical innovations commercially available. Recent innovations at the centre include a device that inserts chest tubes. The device prevents lung collapse in under a minute and saves lives in the battlefield and the emergency room. The centre also has developed pressure-sensing socks that can tell when patients with diabetes are in pain, prevent foot ulcers and communicate health data to smartphones. More than 130 million people suffer from diabetes-related pain worldwide.
Bill Barrable, chief executive officer of the RHI, described Rick Hansen’s long association and warm relationship with Israel. Hansen traveled there on his Man in Motion tour many years ago and he also received an honorary degree from the Hebrew University. Barrable accompanied Hansen on that latter visit.
Barrable spoke of the new partnership as being designed to “grow the next generation of medical research entrepreneurs.” These entrepreneurs will create intellectual property that can be sold commercially within one year, a goal he described as “extraordinary.” In addition to the profound impact it will have on patients, Barrable sees the project as a way to strengthen innovation in British Columbia.
Prof. Yaakov Nahmias is the director of the Grass Centre. After co-founding the Biodesign program at HU with Hadassah Medical Centre and Stanford University, four new medical devices were launched under his leadership – in the program’s first year. Referencing Israel’s reputation as a “start-up nation,” Nahmias touched on the 2009 book Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, which explores how it is that a small, embattled country like Israel has more tech start-ups than any other. Speaking of the student body at the Grass Centre, Nahmias described a population that is mature, self-sufficient and has a rich life experience. Having completed school and their mandatory military service, Israeli grads also have traveled the world and worked while pursuing their undergraduate studies. He described a group that did not want to continue their research work as academics, but as entrepreneurs. The Biodesign program enabled them to do this. Its multi-disciplinary, team-based approach to medical innovation is also unique, according to Nahmias, “because it leverages the diversity we see in Israel.” The program is host to groups led by Palestinians from East Jerusalem and ultra-Orthodox rabbis alike, he said. The program’s success, he added, was owed to the creativity and talent of this diverse group.
In concert with the fiery, boundary-pushing Israelis, Nahmias said Canadian researchers would bring “people with vision, people who would set the course and know how to treat patients and solve problems in everyday life. But we also want to have agitators, people who would rock the bridge and say, ‘that’s not good enough!’ These are the people we have in Israel. And this is why this partnership is unique.”
B.C. Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston spoke highly of Israel’s capacity for innovation. Looking forward to seeing stronger ties develop between the technology sectors of Israel and British Columbia, Ralston said he sees this partnership as a way to “restore and bolster our commitment to research in a way that attracts top-flight talent back to B.C.”
Also joining in the announcement, which was made at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, at Vancouver General Hospital was the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould. In her capacity as federal justice minister, she applauded the new initiative, describing SCI patient care as “a human rights issue.”
Also in attendance was Bernard Bressler, director of the board of Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation. Bressler praised the partners for going beyond academic research to make life-altering technologies. “The partnership creates an environment where creative ideas, difficult problems and entrepreneurial mentorship can interact in a structured way,” he said.
Speaking after the event, John Chernesky, RHI’s consumer engagement lead, commented, “What excites me most is the prospect of new devices that allow people with paralysis to complete ordinary tasks, even something as simple as using an arm to manipulate their environment. Spinal cord injuries can affect every part of a person’s body. The implications [of a program like this] are tremendous.”
Dina Wachtel, executive director of Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, Western Region, said the program created “a living bridge upon which a scientist from Canada will spend time in Israel with the start-up nation and, once they trigger the process, as a team, and have the beginning of a device, they can bring it back to B.C. for further development.”
Shula Klingeris an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.
Cardiologist Gil Bolotin checks patient Robert MacLachlan, the first in the world to receive the CORolla implant, at Rambam hospital. (photo by Pioter Fliter/RHCC)
A 72-year-old Canadian man has become the world’s first recipient of an Israeli-developed implant to treat diastolic heart failure, a fairly common condition for which there is no effective long-term treatment.
The minimally invasive surgery was performed on July 26 at Rambam Health Care Campus, a medical centre in Haifa, by a multidisciplinary team led by cardiologists Gil Bolotin, director of cardiac surgery, and Arthur Kerner, senior physician in the interventional cardiology unit.
The implant, called CORolla, was developed by Israeli startup CorAssist Cardiovascular of Haifa. The elastic device is implanted inside the left ventricle of the heart and can improve cardiac diastolic function by applying direct expansion force on the ventricle wall to help the heart fill with blood. The CorAssist technology was invented by Dr. Yair Feld, a Rambam cardiologist, with doctors Yotam Reisner and Shay Dubi.
The patient, Robert MacLachlan, explained that he had run out of treatment options in Canada for his diastolic heart failure. His wife had read about the CORolla implant on the internet and contacted Dr. Karen Bitton Worms, head of research in the department of cardiac surgery at Rambam. MacLachlan’s cardiologist encouraged him to apply to have the experimental procedure in Israel.
Bolotin said that, while many potential applicants were interested in the procedure, no one wanted to be first until MacLachlan came along.
“I am proud that Rambam offers treatments to patients not available anywhere else in the world,” said Dr. Rafi Beyar, director and chief executive officer of Rambam.
The hospital did not comment on the condition of the patient, but, in a video released a month after the procedure, MacLachlan said he already feels better and has noticed that his skin colour looks healthy for the first time in a long time.
The Israel Ministry of Health has authorized up to 10 clinical trials at Rambam to test the efficacy of cardiac catheterization for placement of the CORolla implant. The potential market for the device is large. It is estimated that more than 23 million people worldwide suffer from heart failure, a condition in which the heart fails to pump sufficient oxygenated blood to meet the body’s needs. Approximately half of heart failure patients suffer from diastolic heart failure, in which the left ventricle fails to relax and adequately refill with blood, resulting in a high filling pressure, congestion and shortness of breath. This is the condition for which the CORolla device was invented.
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