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Close to
his heart

Isreal Gwertz
While a legacy gift is a quiet, altruistic act, it speaks volumes. Here, we share the story of a donor whose name may be quite familiar to our community for the many gifts he shared with Sunnybrook over the years.

By any measure, Israel Gewertz was a remarkable man. Born into poverty in Poland, he and his wife, Malca, moved to Canada in the late 1950s. He diligently worked and saved, becoming a successful businessman and investor, eventually retiring as a multi-millionaire.

Israel adored his wife, who he described as beautiful, kind and generous. When she passed away at 83, she encouraged him to donate their life savings, telling him to “do good with it.”

In his 90s, after being treated for a heart attack at Sunnybrook, Israel developed such a strong relationship with his care team that they began to feel like family. This inspired him to honour Malca’s wishes by making an outstandingly generous decision: to donate his entire estate to Sunnybrook – and specifically to the Schulich Heart Program.

Israel and Dr. Ahmed photographed at Sunnybrook in 2016.

When Israel passed away on March 30, 2019, that legacy gift came into effect. It went toward the the revitalization of the Electrophysiology (EP) Suites. Sunnybrook is home to one of the busiest and fastest growing EP programs in the province, with an eight-member team that performs more than 1,000 simple and complex ablations and other procedures each year to fix malfunctioning parts of the heart.

The first connection Israel had to Sunnybrook was through Dr. Shaheeda Ahmed, who cared for him after he had his heart attack. Israel credited Dr. Ahmed with saving his life. As he came to know her through follow-up visits to her outpatient practice, he realized not only that Dr. Ahmed treated all of her patients with the same great care, but she took an active interest in their lives and strived to ensure they always felt heard.

Dr. Ahmed helped Israel manage his heart condition, as well as achieve his other important goals, including living independently for as long as possible so he could continue with his passion for cooking.

Israel was very hardworking and principled, and he was very generous,” reflects Dr. Ahmed. “I felt privileged that he looked to me for support above and beyond just his heart issue.”

In fact, whenever Israel visited the clinic, and later the Sunnybrook Foundation, he always brought with him homemade pastries. Israel had owned a bakery and deli in Bloor West for years, and the rugelach he would make had a delicious apricot filling, which he was fond of saying came from the only place in Toronto with the best dried apricots. He often shared his “famous” barley soup, too.

Dr. Ahmed and the entire team at the Schulich Heart Program are grateful for Israel’s gift, although very true to his humble nature, no one had any idea he had an estate of this size.

She’s also grateful she got to know him. “He was my patient for many years. The joy of that kind of follow-up is that you’re able to get to know your patients on a different level. You have a chance to talk to them about their background and life experiences,” she says. “Through knowing Israel, I grew, as a physician, and as a person.”