Couple Maintains a Clear Vision for Advances in Ophthalmology

After 20 years of sharing their love of photography, nature, computers, reading and traveling, Denham and Sheila Kelsey took turns contending with the prospect of blindness.

Denham was the first. He was 51, with several good years left in his career as a chartered accountant, when he found himself lying in hospital with a detached retina, wondering if he would ever see again. Fifteen years later, Denham’s wife Sheila had to confront the same possibility – in her case, the result of glaucoma in both eyes.

Both Denham and Sheila’s sight was saved through surgery, an outcome for which they credit members of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“Here we are in our late 80s, still seeing quite acutely,” says Mr. Kelsey. “We’re still able to pursue our passions, which would have been denied us all those years without the marvellous skills of our physicians and the caring way they followed up on treatment.”

After retiring, Mr. Kelsey dedicated his financial and management experience to numerous boards of directors, including those of UBC Hospital and the John Hardie Mitchell Family Foundation, a benefactor to the Faculty of Medicine. With time, he gained tremendous respect for the professionalism, expertise and commitment within the Faculty of Medicine.

Since 1996, the Thetis Island couple donated more than $30,000 to the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. This year, they added a $100,000 planned gift in their estate.

“The emphasis on the very rich giving millions sometimes makes others feel like small fish in a huge puddle,” Denham says. “I think it would be helpful if more people who, like us, are comfortable but not very wealthy, realized that if enough little bits add up, it makes a difference.”

Frederick Mikelberg, Professor and Head of the department, says the Kelseys’ gifts have been – and will continue to be – particularly helpful in addressing his department’s needs for the latest equipment and research operating funds.

“Undesignated gifts like the Kelseys’ permit researchers to pursue avenues they otherwise couldn’t,” he says. “In the current environment, very little money is available for upgrading research equipment to keep us at the cutting-edge, and the operating costs of conducting eye research continue to rise.”

The Kelseys can’t know for certain their money will contribute to a breakthrough, but Denham knows the department will put the resources to good use. “The members of the department know better than us what they need,” he says.

“Possibly, even likely, something will come out of the work that’s going on that makes an enormous difference to others, just as previous research made an enormous difference for us,” he says. “Sheila and I marvel every day. I’m looking out the window now, and I see clearly.”