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June 1, 2005

William Hunter, MD, FRCSC (1930-2004)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123(6):878-879. doi:10.1001/archopht.123.6.878

On Saturday, September 25, 2004, Bill Hunter passed away after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer disease. He will be remembered not for his period of illness, but for the things he created that will live on and thrive long after him.

William Hunter, MD, FRCSC

William Hunter, MD, FRCSC

Dr Hunter began his medical career as a family practitioner in White Dog Falls, near Kenora, at the northwestern edge of Ontario, Canada. White Dog Falls at that time was accessible only by bush plane. He practiced solo medicine there in a frontier environment, where the real meaning of solo hit home, especially when emergencies occurred at night. After a brief career in the vast wilds of the Canadian northern wilderness, Bill went to train in ophthalmic pathology under Norman Aston in London, England. He then entered a residency in ophthalmology at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Ontario) after which Dr Hunter obtained further training in ophthalmic pathology, first with Lorenz Zimmerman at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC, and then with Michael Hogan at the University of California at San Francisco (San Francisco). Dr Hunter subsequently became the director of the Ophthalmic Pathology laboratory at the University of Toronto and taught a generation of Canadian ophthalmologists ophthalmic pathology.

Bill never forgot his northern experience, and he remained unhappy with the limited medical services available to remote Ontario communities. After he achieved a stable position, his thoughts returned to the people of the north. He managed to convince the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (Toronto), the Ontario Medical Association Section of Ophthalmology (Toronto), the Physicians’ Services Incorporated Foundation (Toronto), and the Government of Ontario (Toronto) to accept different organizational, staffing, and funding roles to establish the Ontario Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit, better now known as “IVAN,” the Eye Van. He then managed to convince many of his colleagues to join in the experiment and work on IVAN. IVAN grew from a small, modified Winnebago motor home to a large, fully equipped tractor-trailer ophthalmic facility. The Ontario Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit team grew from a single, motivating, inspired individual to a fully structured organization with a management team, a nursing staff, and an independent medical advisory committee, including a medical director and associate medical director. The fourth generation of IVAN travels from March to November (travel is too difficult in winter for this project) wherever there are roads in northern Ontario, managing the ophthalmic care of more than 5000 remote residents each year. It has become one of the most popular and successful health programs in Canada, one of the most successful medical outreach programs in the world, and a source of ideas for similar programs everywhere. This year, IVAN spends its 34th year on the road, the first 25 of which were under Dr Hunter’s medical directorship. IVAN has been honored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (San Francisco) and has received international awards for its achievements in bringing first-rate care to remote communities.

Dr Hunter worked tirelessly for his 2 interests, ophthalmic pathology and outreach programs for the underserved. He was a long-standing, involved member of the Eastern Ophthalmic Pathology Society and a founding member and chairman of the Canadian Ophthalmic Pathology Society. He remained active in many areas with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind throughout his career, and he was a delegate to the World Health Organization Prevention of Blindness Program (Geneva, Switzerland) and a member and treasurer of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (Hyderabad, India). He also served as a director of Operation Eyesight Universal.

Doctors, even great doctors, remain as prone to the ravages of illness as patients. It was difficult to see Dr Hunter in decline but wonderful to see how his dear wife, Jane, and his children, James, Jennifer, and Andrew, cared for him and protected him during his illness. Ophthalmic pathology now thrives in Toronto as a result of his efforts, and the IVAN program honored Dr Hunter for his 25 years as medical director, and for founding the program, but no greater gratitude for his efforts could ever exist than the perpetuation of the program that he founded and was so dear to him. Ophthalmologists from Montreal to Vancouver currently participate in the IVAN program, and the medical advisory committee communicates frequently by email and meets annually to constantly renew and update our effort. IVAN has, through its own example, driven modernization and improvement in ophthalmic care throughout the north and made the lives of countless people better. It has garnered support from hundreds of volunteers, more than 1000 individual and corporate sponsors, numerous service clubs, more than 30 medical supply and pharmaceutical companies, and countless local public health departments and medical associations. Through our lecture program, we have brought ophthalmic education to the family practitioners and hospital staffs of northern Ontario. In every effort we undertake, we carry Dr Hunter’s goals and ideals.

Dr Hunter may no longer be physically with us, but his legacy should make all Ontario ophthalmologists feel privileged to have had him as our colleague and all Ontarians, Canadians, and ophthalmologists grateful for his enduring gifts. Personally, I have had the great privilege of accepting the stewardship of the Ontario Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit program. It has been a privilege and honor to carry on his legacy. The medical advisory committee of the Ontario Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit is determined to continue to seek new ways to enhance the care of residents of remote communities and to keep Dr Hunter’s program in the forefront of world outreach programs, as a model of how much can be achieved when good intention and solid effort are invested.

Correspondence: Dr Arshinoff, York Finch Eye Associates, 2115 Finch Ave W, Suite 316, Toronto, ON M3N 2V6, Canada (saaeyes@idirect.com).