The Tom Hofheimer Medical Mission

by | Apr 17, 2015 | Other News

Dr. Michael Sussman with a child at the Magical Chairs Symposium.

Dr. Michael Sussman with a child at the Magical Chairs Symposium.

Supporting myriad programs, including Magical Chairs, clinics and exchanges

The first part of this series ( Jewish News, March 23, 2015) described how the Tom Hofheimer Fund brought Israeli reconstructive plastic surgeons to Tidewater to study with local specialists. While this remained the flagship program of the Fund for a number of years, other programs were also sponsored.

First, six EVMS physicians were subsidized to practice four- to six-week fellowships in Israel.

Then in 1987, the Fund sponsored a Shock and Trauma Symposium in partnership with the Virginia Israel Commission.

This laid the groundwork in 1989 for a program that brought together the Virginia Israel Commission, UVa’s Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center and the Alyn Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Jerusalem—the only rehabilitative hospital for children in the Middle East. Dubbed Magical Chairs, this international symposium on “seating the disabled child” was held in Jerusalem.

Dr. Michael Sussman, director of Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center at University of Virginia and Dr. Shirley Meyer, director of Alyn Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Jerusalem, conceived of the seating symposium after agreeing to develop a medical exchange between their two institutions.

Magical Chairs focused on the needs of children challenged by cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries and other problems.

Handicapped children really live in their wheelchairs. The chair is the disabled child’s environment. If he is not properly seated, it can affect control of the head. He may not be able to see or hear properly, feed himself or learn to read, write or socialize as one should.
The Jerusalem Post
Thursday, September 21, 1989

At the symposium, experts demonstrated how technologically advanced seats could help the disabled control their head movements, balance themselves and manage other skills usually taken for granted. Several hundred orthopedic surgeons, rehabilitation experts and seating manufacturers attended the international symposium. Tom’s wife, Marcia, and sister, Joyce Strelitz, received an award in the Medical Mission’s name from Ezer Weizman, Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology and future President of Israel.

Cross training and symposia occupied the Tom Hofheimer Medical Mission for most of the next decade. Following a symposium on Feeding and the Disabled Child in Israel, Israeli healthcare professionals were sponsored by the Medical Mission to work at Kluge in Charlottesville.

In 1994, the Mission funded a nationwide conference in Bersheva on Childhood Development. Several years later, with funds donated by members of the Tidewater Jewish community, and with equipment provided by Sonny Lefcoe and other Tidewater dentists, a dental clinic was constructed in Tidewater’s sister community of Pardes Katz. To this day, the clinic continues to provide discounted and welfare care with the dedicated help of Dr. Calvin Belkov, Lefcoe’s partner in this effort. The clinic now bears the name, Calvin Belkov Dental Clinic. In 1995, dental equipment donated by Medical College of Virgina, was shipped at no cost to the program by Gordon Paper Company.

The Tom Hofheimer Medical Mission rounded off the last decade of the millennium by sponsoring a pediatric symposium in Tel Aviv and a six month visit at Norfolk’s Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters for Dr. Yoram Ben Yehudah, a pioneer in the field of pediatric emergency medicine.

These were only some of the training and educational seminars organized and financed by the Tom Hofheimer Fund during its first two decades. The next part of this series will recount the Fund’s expanded involvement to other kinds of projects in Israel, Europe and South America.

To learn more, support or make a donation to the Tom Hofheimer Fund with the Tidewater Jewish Foundation, visit