Dr. Lee Ponsky of Moreland Hills, founder of MedWish International, has spent much of his adult life developing the organization, which sends discarded medical supplies and equipment to emerging countries.
In January, the 41-year-old director of University Hospitals’ urologic oncology center will be responsible for sending a different sort of cargo overseas. Ponsky, his wife Monica, and their children, Ilan, 15, Eric, 13, and Maiya, 10 are headed to Sydney, Australia, for a one-year sabbatical.
Q. What prompted this sabbatical year?
A. Last April, when we began to plan our annual family vacation, our kids said how awesome it would be to actually go away for an entire year and live in a foreign country. It blew me away that our children were willing to leave their friends and their comfortable, familiar surroundings for such an extended period of time. My wife and I shared their enthusiasm, and we began to make plans for a sabbatical year. We selected Australia because it is an English-speaking country, has a strong Jewish community, there was work for me to do, and it is an exceptionally beautiful country.
Q. Why does January 2013 make sense?
A. By then I will have tied up any loose ends regarding my patients and my practice. Also, the Australian school year begins in January; the Australian seasons are opposite ours. Our oldest son is a high school sophomore, so this is the last year we can be away for any length of time before he begins to make college plans.
Q. What will you do professionally in Sydney?
A. I’ll be working with a urologist at St. Vincent Hospital in Sydney who specializes in prostate cancer research and treatment that is similar to what I am doing at UH. I anticipate learning new techniques and research advances that I can bring back to UH. I’ll also be looking to advance the MedWish mission in that area of the world. I intend for the year to be very productive on many levels.
Q. What about Monica and the kids?
A. Monica, who is an accomplished interior designer, will have the chance to collaborate with Australian designers and discover innovative resources and ideas. Right now, Ilan and Eric attend Orange schools and Maiya is at Agnon. The children will likely be enrolled in a Jewish day school in Sydney. Over 75 percent of Jewish kids attend Jewish day school in Australia.
Q. Have you made social contacts in Sydney?
A. We haven’t even moved, and we are already very impressed with the warmth of Sydney’s Jewish community. Once word got out we would be living there, we have been contacted by a number of welcoming families. As Monica says, one of the inherent beauties of Judaism is that we are only one degree of separation from each other, no matter where we are in the world.
Q. How are you preparing for the move?
A. We are not flipping through travel brochures looking for holiday getaways, because we don’t see this year as a vacation, but as a learning experience – we plan to immerse ourselves in the culture. Right now we are checking out neighborhoods for a convenient apartment, learning about Australian currency, cell phone usage, driving rules, and where grocery stores are located.
Q. What has been your family’s reaction?
A. My parents, Jackie and Jeff Ponsky, have been supportive, even though we caught them off-guard with our decision. Monica’s mother and my family intend to visit us, which will be terrific. Since Monica is from Mexico, we know what it is like to be far away from beloved relatives yet still stay in touch.
Q. What will you miss the most during your year away?
A. My grandmother, Charlotte Goldberg. But I’ve made plans to Skype with her often. I also plan to return to Cleveland at least once during the year for the annual MedWish fundraiser, the Band Aid Bash.
Q. What is your personal reaction to this experience?
A. Life is not a dress rehearsal. I never want to wake up one day and say I wish I could have done something differently. As a cancer doctor, I see too many people with regrets about opportunities missed along the way.
The last time I made a detour in my life’s progression was a trip to Africa while I was in college. I came back with the idea to found MedWish. We’ll see what I come back with this time.
Q. Closing thoughts?
A. To quote The Terminator: “We’ll be back.”