A Syrian refugee comes to Vancouver and gets a new chance at sight. A young surgeon prepares to bring knowledge and cooperation home to save lives in the Middle East. Two directions, two international seeds of change: both recent moments in a 125-year continuum of compassionate care.
From its beginnings in 1894, Providence Health Care was founded to care for the most vulnerable. From healing weary prospectors to advancing seniors care to teaching a frightened world how to care for HIV/AIDS patients in the 1980s (and creating a model of care that was adopted internationally), to today, as we improve worldwide addictions medicine, Providence has always helped those who need it.
So this year, when the Colorectal Surgery department at St. Paul’s set the stage for change in the Middle East by accepting Dr. Humaid Al-Adawi as a fellow, it was the latest in a long history of global contributions. On completion of his training, Al-Adawi will return home to become Oman’s first and only colorectal surgeon, with the intent to replicate the St. Paul’s model of compassionate care – and departmental and cross-regional cooperation – all from scratch.
“The impact will be felt for generations,” says Dr. Manoj Raval, one of the surgeons training Al-Adawi and, along with doctors Carl Brown, Ahmer Karimuddin, and Terry Phang, a founder of the colorectal surgery centre for excellence at St. Paul’s. “Now we can share the lessons we learned with him: how we reached out to the community and partnered with other surgeons in the province so that patients can get the best care they need.”
Everything they teach Al-Adawi will inform the future of treatment in Oman, so Raval and his team are taking care to impart high standards, along with the Providence Health Care mandate of open doors. “We have taken our place as one of the leading colorectal surgery centres of the world, and we want to be able to give back and bring that care to other countries,” he says.
Al-Adawi, whose wife is also a general surgery resident in Vancouver and will become one of only two pediatric surgeons in Oman, is also earning a master’s degree in hospital administration to help him build a countrywide colorectal surgery program from the ground up. “There are always new innovations, and in five or 10 years, the surgeons from Oman may become leaders in new areas, and through global partnership, may be able to bring that new knowledge to BC,” says Raval.
As Al-Adawi prepares to bring the St. Paul’s model to the Arabian peninsula, other seeds are being planted here at home.
Once a young law student in Syria, Anas Schichmouse twice had his world torn apart: first by genetic blindness, then by war. A sponsor’s generosity brought Schichmouse from an Iraqi refugee camp to Vancouver, where his sisters were waiting; soon, he was under the care of Dr. Simon Holland and the team at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital. “I can’t imagine how frightening it is when you can’t see and there is civil war,” says Holland, who visited Syria in 2011 as a volunteer surgeon.
Completely blind in one eye from a failed surgery back home, Schichmouse was afraid to risk the sight he had left in the other. But grace arrived in the form of Dr. Murad Alobthani, one of Dr. Holland’s fellows and also a native of the United Arab Emirates, who could reassure Schichmouse in his own language. “Dr. Alobthani had a key role in his surgery and recovery. It made a huge difference to have him there,” says Holland.
With his sight restored, Schichmouse is excited to renew his studies and contribute to the country that took him in. “It’s thrilling. Today, he recognized me from the waiting room and waved,” says Holland. “He’s a very courageous individual, and I think he’s going to make sure this has an impact.”
To the Providence team, helping those in need – wherever they are – is second nature. “It’s the best thing we can do, to pass on skills that will be useful in other countries, and to take care of the people we bring here,” says Holland. “It’s how we should think about the world.”
Photography by Brian Smith