Preserving the Precious Gift of Sight

ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellowships

Two ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellowships are awarded each year by the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) to young ophthalmologists from developing countries who are committed to enhancing ophthalmic education and patient care in their home countries.

Recipients chosen have been recommended by the head of a teaching or public service institution and must have a commitment to return to a position at a teaching institution or public service hospital in their home country following the fellowship. The ICO Foundation Fellowship Committee is the selection committee for this award.

Each fellowship provides support for one year of ophthalmology subspecialty training at one of the world’s leading ophthalmology centers. Funding of $25,000 each for two Fellowships is provided to ICO Foundation by Retina Research Foundation, in honor of the public service leadership of Mr. W. H. Helmerich, III.

For more information:

Link to International Council of Ophthalmology List of Fellowship Alumni

2017 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Linda Espinosa Cernichiaro Amejandra, MD (from Mexico) – for training in ROP and Pediatric

Fellowship with Dr. Audina Berrocal (Bascom Palmer, Miami, FL)

Starting in March 2017

Dr. Cernichiaro
Dr. Cernichiaro

Nilufer Yesilirmak, MD (from Turkey) – for training in Cornea and External Diseases

Fellowship with Dr. Ellen Koo (Bascom Plamer, Miami, FL)

Starting in August 2017 to July 2018


2016 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Thiago George Cabral, MD (from Brazil) – for training in Retina

Fellowship with Dr. Stephen Tsang (New York, NY)

Jose Manuel Guajardo Beroiza, MD (from Chile) – for training in Glaucoma

Fellowship with Dr. Kim Sheng Lim (St. Thomas Hospital, Dept. of Ophthalmology, London, UK)

April 2016 to March 2017

Excerpt from Dr. Guajardo’s Report:

I was able to provide supervised medical and surgical care for patients with all different categories of Glaucoma. These included primary and secondary open angle glaucoma (uveitis, pseudoexfoliation syndrome, anteriour segment dysgenesis, neovascular, etc) as well as the whole angle closure spectrum. Specifically I independently performed more than 50 glaucoma drainage device and trabeculectomies, more than 100 complex and combined cataract surgery as well as over 40 endoscopic photocoagulation. I also took direct involvement in medical and laser treatment (over 45 selective laser treatment) and postoperative care including antimetabolite subconjunctival injections, suture adjustment and removal, argon laser suturelysis, yag laser iridotomies among others.

I will be presenting a poster showing our results of Phacoemulsification combined with Endoscopic cyclophotocoagulation in the World Glaucoma Congress, Helsinki, on June 29th, and I am preparing a manuscript for submission in the following weeks showing results for a particular tube surgery revision technique.

Waheed Ademola Ibraheem, MD (from Nigeria) – for training in Vitreoretina

Fellowship with Dr. Jain (Satna, India)

April 2016 to April 2017

Dr. Ibraheem (second from left) with his host, Dr BK Jain (far right), during Sadguru Conference
Dr. Ibraheem (second from left) with his host, Dr BK Jain (far right), during Sadguru Conference
Dr. Ibraheem (in white coat) and a patient in front of Operating Theatre complex
Dr. Ibraheem (in white coat) and a patient in front of Operating Theatre complex

Excerpt from Dr. Ibraheem’s Report:

My experience at Shri Sadguru Seva Sangh Postgraduate institute of Ophthalmology, Chitrakoot, India was a memorable one. I participated fully in all clinical activities including weekly seminars and case report. I contributed and share my experience in relevant situation. I also had a privilege to attend a yearly conference (Sadguru conclave) which saw in attendance many renowned Ophthalmologists.

During my training period, I practically performed all forms of surgical retina cases ranging from vitrectomy for vitreous hemorrhage, removal of nucleus/ intra ocular foreign bodies from the vitreous cavity, sclera buckle for retina detachment, macula hole surgery, scleral fixated intraocular lens and vitrectomy for retinal detachment. Honestly, my aims were achieved and I can now confidently perform all these procedures independently. Following my return to Nigeria, I have performed 2 successful retina detachment surgeries and 1 sclera fixated intra ocular lens. Many thanks to ICO.


2015 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Yeshigeti Gelaw Birhanu, MD (from Ethiopia) – for training in Vitreoretinal Surgery

Fellowship:  Eye and Laser World Center, Cairo, Egypt

with Dr. Ihab Saad Othman

Nopasak Phasukkijwatana, MD, PhD (from Thailand) – for training in Medical Retina

Fellowship:  Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

with Dr. Bartly Mondino and Dr. David Sarraf

July 2015 to June 2016

Excerpt from Dr. Phasukkijwatana’s Report:

I really enjoyed my training experience at the Stein Eye Institute with Dr. David Sarraf and team. I have learned through great amount of both clinical exposure and research in retinal imaging especially optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA). The academic atmosphere was very active and I have up to 30 publications during the training period. Last but not least, I have made good friends who are retinal specialists from several parts of the world.

Now I have been back in Thailand bringing much knowledge back to my university. I have more confidence when seeing patients and in giving the right diagnosis and treatment than before. I have taught my own retinal fellows and residents the new knowledge that I have learnt during my fellowship. I am pioneering research about OCTA in my institute and the Thai Retinal Society. Without support form the ICO RRF Helmerich, I would not have been in such an outstanding ophthalmologist team and forefront research group at the Stein Eye.

Poster presentation at ARVO 2017 with Prof. David Sarraf (second from left), Dr. Juan Pablo Davila from Mexico (middle), Dr. Andrea Govetto from Italy (second from right) and Dr. Mayss Al-Sheikh from Switzerland (right)

With Prof. Bradley R. Straatsma, Director Emeritus of the Jules Stein Eye Institute and President Emeritus of the ICO Foundation

Qisheng You, MD, PhD (from China) – for training in Retina

Fellowship:  Jacobs Medical Center, Shiley Eye Center at UCSD, San Diego, CA

with Dr. William Freeman

Excerpt from Dr. You’s Report:

This is to report that I have completed the ICO sponsored fellowship training (2015.8.1 to 2016.8.1) in Jacobs Retina Center Shiley Eye Insitute, University of California San Diego, under the tutoring of Dr. William Freeman.

During the fellowship-training, I got large amount of clinical exposure and enormous academic research opportunities. I observed Dr. Freeman’s clinics (about 4000 out patients/year), operations (about 300 vitrectomies/year), intraocular injections (about 1000 injections/year) and ocular imaging (about 2500 outpatients/year). I was also involved in several clinical trials for neovascular age-related macular degeneration, geographic atrophy and diabetic retinopathy. I carried out several research projects, wrote 6 scientific papers as first author or co-first author. In addition, I was involved in another 8 papers as a co-author. While being trained in Jacobs Retina Center, I kept collaborating with my colleagues in my home country. I published 10 papers together with the researchers from my home country during the fellowship training.

Now I have returned to Beijing and started to work in my home institute, the Beijing Institute of Ophthalmology, Beijing Tongren Hospital, Capital Medical University.

Observing operations in the OR

Dr. You learning the cutting edge ocular imaging


2014 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Guillermo Salcedo-Villanueva, MD (from Mexico) – for training in Medical Retina

Fellowship:  University of Colorado, Denver, CO

with Dr. Hugo Quiroz-Mercado

Excerpt from Dr. Salcedo-Villanueva’s Report:

The fellowship was performed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute and Denver Health Medical Center, from July 2013 to June 2014. The fellowship program was Vitreoretinal Diseases and Surgery, under Dr. Naresh Mandava, Chair for the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Colorado, and Dr. Hugo QuirozMercado, Director of Ophthalmology of Denver Health Medical Center. The fellowship allowed me to complement my training as a Retina Specialist by being exposed to different areas of our field, like Ocular Oncology and Pediatric Retina, as well as expand my knowledge and expertise on diseases that are the leading causes of blindness, like Diabetic Retinopathy and Age-related Macular Degeneration.

I was able to assist at the OR and learn different surgical techniques under Dr. Quiroz-Mercado and Dr. Scott Oliver. I also had the opportunity to be involved in important clinical trials by working in research for the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network. I was able to investigate, experiment and “play” with different imaging tools which at the time were still not available in Mexico, like the ultra-wide field fundus camera.

Mehran Zarei-Ghanavati, MD (from Iran) – for training in Cornea and External Diseases

Fellowship:  Sussex Eye Hospital, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS, in Brighton, UK

with Dr. Christopher Liu


2013 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

David Rivera de la Parra, MD (from Mexico City) – for training in Retina

Fellowship:    Jules Stein Eye Institute, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Steven D. Schwartz, MD

Dr. Rivera de la Parra with Dr. Gregg T. Kokame from Retina Consultants of Hawaii (left) and Dr. Brad Straatsma, President Emeritus, ICO Foundation (Interestingly the statue in the back is that of Dr. Jules Stein.)





Excerpt from Dr. Rivera de la Parra’s report:

One of the major advantages of doing this Fellowship at UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute is the complexity of the patients, many with severe or rare diseases.  This depth of pathology makes this place unique in the amount of knowledge that you may acquire while working in here.
The Institute´s staff is incredibly good at its work and maintains very high standards.  All the staff is always willing to learn and being up to date with all issues. Discussing interesting cases always helps everyone and is something that frequently occurs in UCLA medical halls. The academic activities (surgical rounds, grand rounds, research meetings, imaging conferences) are of a very high quality and the doctors, fellows and residents are always interested in contributing and distributing new knowledge. Also I got involved in several interesting research projects that will contribute with new concepts to the medical literature. My goal will be to use this newfound knowledge to help me deliver the best care possible to my patients in México.
Dr. Douglas Koch and Dr. Bruna Ventura
Dr. Douglas Koch and Dr. Bruna Ventura

Bruna Vieira Ventura, MD  (from Brazil) – for training in Cornea

Fellowship:    Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
Douglas D. Koch, MD

Fellowship dates: May 2013 to April 2014

Dr. Ventura presenting research at ASCRS Meeting
Dr. Ventura presenting research at ASCRS Meeting
Dr. Bruna Ventura with Dr. Li Wang and Dr. Mitchell Weikert
Dr. Bruna Ventura with Dr. Li Wang and Dr. Mitchell Weikert


2012 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Henry E. Nkumbe, MD
Henry E. Nkumbe, MD

Henry E. Nkumbe, MD (from Madagascar) – retina surgery fellowship training at Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, India.

A native of Cameroon, Dr. Nkumbe is a graduate of the University of Goettingen, Germany. He was assigned to Madagascar by the international disability and development organization CBM and has been instrumental in implementation of VISION 2020 and training of eye doctors and ophthalmic personnel, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Madagascar and the Malagasy Ophthalmological Society. He is a founding member of the Cameroonian Forum for Medical Sciences, and the General Secretary of the African Ophthalmology Forum.

Update on Dr. Nkumbe (2017)

Dr. Nkumbe is Medical Director of MICEI, the Magrabi – ICO Cameroon Eye Institute. MICEI is the first project of the newly-created Africa Eye Foundation, and has recently opened in Central Africa (situated in Yaounde, Cameroon) with the mission of providing high quality eye care services to this underserved region. The MICEI is Central Africa’s first non-profit subspecialty eye hospital and training institute.


Pukhraj Rishi, MD
Pukhraj Rishi, MD
Dr. Richi with Dr. Ed Jaeger
Dr. Richi with Dr. Ed Jaeger

Pukhraj Rishi, MD  (from Chennai, India) – ocular oncology fellowship training at Wills Eye Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Dr. Rishi is a graduate of B J Medical College and M & J Institute of Ophthalmology in Ahmedabad. He trains residents, fellows and ophthalmic personnel at the Sankara Nethralya Medical Research Foundation in Chennai, India, where he also conducts research and clinical trials. His areas of interest are age-related macular degeneration and ocular oncology.

His Helmerich Fellowship in ocular oncology at the Wills Eye Institute will enable Dr. Rishi to build global partnerships with leading oncology research centers.

2011 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows

Afsun Sahin, MD
Afsun Sahin, MD


Lala Ceklic, MD, PhD (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – fellowship training at Bern University Hospital, Switzerland

Dr. Ceklic at ARVO 2014
Dr. Ceklic at ARVO 2014






Afsun Sahin, MD (Turkey)

Fellowship training at Mass Eye & Ear Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard University, Boston, MA

Subspecialty: Cornea

Training with: David A. Sullivan, PhD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology

Fellowship dates: October 2010 – September 2011

Post-fellowship teaching position:

Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Eskisehir Osmangazi University Medical School, Eskisehir, Turkey


2010 ICO – RRF Helmerich International Fellows (first recipients)

Mohammed El-Hanan, MD (Egypt) – Fellowship training at L. V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India

Siamak Zarei-Ghanavati, MD (Iran) – Fellowship training at the Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, CA

Excerpt from Dr. Zarei-Ghanavati’s report following Fellowship (July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011):

“The fellowship program offered comprehensive training in all aspects of corneal transplantation (including the newest surgical techniques such as endothelial transplantation, femtosecond laser assisted keratoplasty procedures, and keratoprosthesis), refractive surgery, and uveitis.

During the first four months of my fellowship, I focused primarily on research; I worked under Dr. Aldave’s direction, on the search for and characterization of the genes corneal dystrophies. Under supervision of Dr. Deng, I studied confocal imaging of limbus and corneal stem cells. We wrote two articles and we have submitted one. I have also submitted a paper about “Ocular response analyzer in keratoconic patients” in ARVO, under direction of Dr. Hamilton.

The clinical and surgical experiences have provided me extensive exposure to all aspects of cornea, external disease, anterior segment surgery, and new refractive surgeries.”

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The mission of the Retina Research Foundation is to reduce retinal blindness worldwide by funding programs in research and education. As a public charity, RRF raises funds from the private sector and the investment of its endowment funds.

RRF’s 48th Anniversary

October 1, 2017