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Sir Magdi Yacoub: Egypt's king of hearts

Ahram Online follows the life of one of Egypt’s most inspirational figures in the field of medicine

Ingy Deif, Sunday 11 Mar 2018
Magdi Yacoub, source: MYF
Views: 14736
Views: 14736

When rumours of his ill-health were dismissed in a phone call by prominent Egyptian doctor Magdi Yacoub to a major talk show programme on Dream TV channel on 3 March, Egyptians breathed a sigh of relief. The place he holds in the hearts of his countrymen is indisputable.

The path of an icon

Yacoub was born in Sharqiya in 1939 to a surgeon father from a family that hails from Upper Egypt.

Watching his father's profession, the boy developed a passion for medicine at an early age, but his interest for pursuing the field of cardiology was sparked when he witnessed as a child his beloved aunt pass away at a very young age from heart disease.

Yacoub attended medical school at Cairo University when he was only 15 years old, graduating in 1957 before moving to Britain in 1962; the country where most of his early accomplishments took place.

He first made history in 1976 when he performed the first open-heart operation in Nigeria, and once again in 1983 when he was the first surgeon to perform a heart and lung transplant in the UK.

Within 10 years of the inauguration of the Heart Transplant centre in Harefield Hospital in London, he had performed 1,000 surgeries.

Yaqoub’s name was hailed again in 1992, when he was knighted by the queen of England for his contribution to medicine.

In 1998, he was awarded the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his work and pioneering techniques. He was awarded a second Fellowship Award in 1999 from the Royal Society.

Other awards included the WHO Prize for Humanitarian Services, the Medal of Merit from the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Heart & Lung Transplantation.

Yacoub was also able to grow part of a human heart valve from stem cells for the first time in history.

He also developed a technique for saving the lives of newborns with their major heart vessels transposed.

Yacoub made history again in 2014, when he became the first Egyptian to receive the UK Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth.

The Order of Merit, which was once bestowed upon Winston Churchill, was founded in 1902 and is highly regarded, with only 24 living recipients holding it at any given time.

Yacoub also holds the Guinness World Record for having performed the largest number of surgeries in one year, when he performed 100 operations in 1980.

According to Imperial College in London, Yacoub established the largest lung and transplant programme in the world, where more than 2,500 operations have been performed.

A passion for serving humanity

At one point and after years of unceasing volunteer work along the path of his career, the need for an organised entity was apparent.

In 1995, Yacoub created the Chain of Hope charity, which treats children with life-threatening heart conditions in developing countries.

After 11 years of engagement with Egyptian children through Abul-Riche Children’s hospital in Cairo, he established the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation in 2008.

In 2009, the foundation established the Aswan Heart Centre; a non-profit NGO that provides free world-class medical services to the less privileged in Egypt and throughout the region suffering from cardiovascular disease, in addition to conducting various training and research programmes.

King of hearts

The governorate of Sharqiya takes pride in being the birthplace of many prominent Egyptians who made history in many fields.

The list includes pioneering economists like Talaat Harb and Abdel-Aziz Hegazy, Artists including singers Abdel-Halim Hafez, Abdel-Wahab and actor Ahmed Zaki, as well as writers like the late Yusuf Idris.

At the top of this list, however, comes Sir Magdi Yacoub.

The place Yacoub holds among Egyptians is undisputable, and it was no surprise that when the advert for his heart foundation aired almost one year ago, it gained popular acclaim on the spot.

The advert, titled "Draw a heart," brilliantly evoked feelings of respect, empathy, love and hope. The instant positive feedback to the segment was due to many reasons, but most of all was the presence of the renowned surgeon himself in many shots of the advert.

The marathon held two times along Aswan’s Nile banks is even more proof of Yaqoub's popularity.

After the first marathon was held in February 2017, Yaqoub called for volunteers for research study, and the response was overwhelming, with scores of youths flooding Aswan Heart Centre and patiently waiting for hours to conduct health checks for the research, spending over three hours to finish all the procedures.

Both marathons where attended by thousands of Egyptians and foreigners coming to participate in the charity event, which was attended by the professor himself and raised awareness regarding the facility he represents.

"I think about humanity. Nothing is more pleasurable for me than serving humanity," he once said.

Today, Dr Yacoub, who has developed a procedure for switching heart vessels for babies born with congenital heart defects, has written over 1,000 medical articles and co-authored several books. He has also supervised over 60 researches in the fields of tissue engineering, stem cell biology, end stage heart failure, and transplant immunology, and remains one of the world’s most respected surgeons.

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