About the Foundation
Established by Thomas Heed in 1945, the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation provides funding to assist young men and women pursuing postgraduate studies in ophthalmology. The appointed individuals receive a Merit Award and are recognized as Heed Fellows.
Thomas Heed was an extremely successful businessman whose early years were spent in the railroad business. Later in life he served as president and director of a variety of companies including land, mining and lumber businesses.
Mr. Heed became involved in ophthalmology through two medical crises. As a young man of 19, he suffered from iritis and spent three months in a darkened room. Facing the possibility of complete blindness himself, Heed made a resolution to help prevent blindness through whatever means he could.
Years later his wife suffered a retinal detachment that was successfully repaired by Dr. Harry Gradle of Chicago. Dr. Gradle told Mr. Heed that the best approach to the prevention of blindness was to support postgraduate training of promising young eye doctors. Dr. Gradle emphasized that the teaching of new techniques for eye surgery and eye research programs was critical in advancing the knowledge and management of ocular disease.
In 1945, after Dr. Gradle suffered a stroke and discontinued his practice, Thomas Heed approached Dr. Vail, chairman of the ophthalmology department at Northwestern University Medical School. As Dr. Vail described this meeting, Mr. Heed approached him "out of the blue" and told him that he would like to establish a foundation for the purpose of training young eye surgeons.
Since Mr. and Mrs. Heed had no children or close relatives, they wanted to show their gratitude by giving the bulk of their large estate to the newly formed foundation. Dr. Vail assisted Mr. Heed in establishing the foundation and guiding formation of the original Board of Directors. The Heed Ophthalmic Foundation was formally established on May 29, 1946 and the first two fellows were appointed in 1947.
The history of the Heed Foundation tells how the personal eye afflictions suffered by Thomas and Ruth Heed resulted in the first post-graduate fellowship training opportunity in ophthalmology, an extraordinary program which has been and continues to be of benefit to ophthalmologists, our patients and society.