Dr. Robert “Boomer” Burnstine believed in taking care of and doing right by others – from his family and friends to his patients and employees.
For nearly 40 years, the visionary founder of pediatric ophthalmology at Akron Children’s Hospital helped care for and treat countless children with eye diseases and visual system disorders.
On Feb. 4, Dr. Burnstine passed away. Now, a $1 million gift made to the Dr. Boomer and Jill Burnstine Chair in Pediatric Ophthalmology at Akron Children’s will honor his memory while allowing the leadership at our Vision Center of Excellence to continue his legacy.
“Boomer was a fabulous guy,” said the donor, a longtime, 70-year friend of Dr. Burnstine who wished to remain anonymous. “It was an honor to be able to give to something that he believed in.”
A true pioneer
In 1976, Dr. Burnstine became one of less than 200 pediatric ophthalmologists in the entire country at that time. Fortunately for the children and families in our region – and beyond – he established his new practice in Akron.
“There wouldn’t be pediatric ophthalmology in Akron without Dr. Burnstine, let alone at the hospital,” said Richard Hertle, MD, FAAO, FACS, FAAP, director of pediatric ophthalmology, holder of the Dr. Boomer and Jill Burnstine Chair in Pediatric Ophthalmology, and pediatric ophthalmologist. “He brought the subspecialty to Akron, which was in its infancy when he was trained.”
During his career, Dr. Burnstine established the division of pediatric ophthalmology at our hospital, conducted more than 17,500 surgeries, and treated children with difficult vision challenges such as nystagmus – an incurable neurological condition characterized by involuntary rapid movement of the eyes. Part of his work included training residents, with Dr. Hertle among them. Dr. Burnstine also was one of the original 16 investigators worldwide for the drug that eventually became Botox.
He and his wife, Jill, became advocates for our hospital. The Burnstines made their first gift in 1978 and became long-standing donors to our Vision Center. Jill joined The Women’s Board of Akron Children’s Hospital in 1982 and has been a volunteer and leader for the board ever since. In 2018, the couple created the Dr. Boomer and Jill Burnstine Endowed Chair in Pediatric Ophthalmology – the first endowed chair to be established at our hospital by a pediatric physician. It provides a sustainable funding source to support research studies and delivers financial backing to push the division in new and exciting directions, ensuring our ongoing leadership in the field.
“I think the real story of Boomer is he got better as he got older, which is rare,” said his friend. “The truly sensational people finish well, and Boomer was one of them. He became more and more amazing.”
Supporting work that will change the future of ophthalmology
The $1 million gift made in Dr. Burnstine’s honor will benefit the endowed chair that he and Jill established.
“The endowed chair allows for continued growth and strong leadership in the Vision Center,” explained Dr. Hertle. “It enables those of us who are in leadership to be able to provide expert care to the entire population, to set up a part of our activities as research, and to allow us to expand in terms of the type of care we give – from routine service to subspecialty surgical and medical services to subspecialty clinics.”
This expansion comes at a critical time as Dr. Hertle and his team are building the Vision Center of Excellence. Through our Centers of Excellence initiative, we’re further investing in our areas of greatest strength by assembling an exceptionally high concentration of expertise, in particular fields of medicine, that have already achieved outstanding success and garnered national or international recognition.
“We’re a Center of Excellence because we deliver expert care rarely provided at other institutions,” said Dr. Hertle. “We also provide unique subspecialty care, diagnosing and treating children with rare eye diseases. Many institutions won’t even see these patients. We do.”
In addition to the services it already offers, a key mission of the center is to be one of the first in the nation to implement the use of genetic and cellular therapies to control and cure visual system diseases in infants and children.
“The resources that are needed to add gene therapy treatments in terms of personnel, space and equipment will be easier to get with the financial support from the endowed chair,” said Dr. Hertle. “It’s that simple.”
A legacy lives on
As the Vision Center of Excellence launches into new territory, the pioneering legacy of Dr. Burnstine – and the gift made in his honor – will bolster its efforts.
“All the people who work here in the Vision Center are grateful for what Boomer has done, and it’s an active remembrance,” said Dr. Hertle. “I think Boomer is with us all the time as we see patients, as we’re helping them, as families leave with a renewed sense of hope for their children and their vision. All of us here know that this would not have been possible for these children, their families and for us without Boomer doing what he did. His legacy is our continued care of these children and families.”
Invest in the future of Akron Children’s. A gift to our Vision Center of Excellence helps us restore the sight of children in your community while establishing Akron Children’s as a regional and national leader in pediatric ophthalmology. To learn more about supporting this life-changing work, contact Megan Hopper, senior director of principal giving, at 330-543-5768 or firstname.lastname@example.org.