It was just another day when an eight-year-old boy sitting in a park witnessed his brother struggle with chest pain that had increasingly gotten worse throughout the week. At the time, all the boy knew to do was to yell out for anyone nearby. Answering his desperate cry for help, a man ran into action to see what was happening. The man was their father yelling, “my son is having a heart attack.” The father did not know what to do since they were two hours away from the nearest hospital. The boy was shaking, feeling helpless watching his dad put his brother into their van. As the father desperately drove to get to the hospital as fast as possible, the boy was sitting beside his mother eager to hear of their arrival.
As soon as they arrived, the brother was immediately treated by medical professionals. After performing many laboratory tests and examinations, the boy’s brother was diagnosed with nephrolithiasis, which was the primary cause of his chest pain. The brother had successfully undergone a percutaneous nephrolithotomy, the removal of kidney stones, with no major complications. The brother’s symptoms had successfully been treated and everything turned out to be alright; however, what would have happened if the brother had something that required more urgent care? The outcomes of survival would have been vastly different. That moment in the park was a life changing moment for that eight-year-old boy. That was when his interest of medicine slowly began to develop.
Located at the very tip of Venezuela is a small town called Dabajuro where the little boy was born and raised. Originally from Palestine, the boy’s parents had moved to Venezuela due to the conflict between Palestine and Israel and economic hardships. In fact, they were the only middle eastern family within that small town. Living in a developing country can be challenging because having access to quality health care, public services, and sanitation are not accessible as compared to developed countries. The family consistently had to drive a total of four hours just to simply get an annual physical or get their minute concerns addressed.
When the boy turned thirteen and began high school, he had a dream to become a physician like the doctors who had saved his brother’s life. His eagerness to become a doctor rapidly grew, but it seemed like a hard dream to achieve being a minority with limited academic resources – resources that could ultimately enable him to enroll in a good school. He knew that the only way for him to achieve his dreams was to study hard and to get a scholarship with the support from the Venezuelan government that would allow him to study in the US.
As he was approaching graduation, he received a call from the school director. He was surprised to learn that he was one of the students selected to travel to the US. By this time, the boy was no longer a kid anymore; he was 17-year-old man ready to conquer the world. Even so, things were never as easy as they seemed. He realized that he would have to live alone in an unknown country and learn English while beginning an entirely new life, but he knew he could do it.
Leaving all his friends and family felt devastating, but he was determined to return with a diploma that would help those who are underserved gain access to healthcare. Shortly after arriving to America, he immediately became frustrated having to operate in an American system without knowledge of the English language. He was having to work two jobs while being a full-time student at University of New Mexico and found little support from the institution. Sadly, he had to discover everything on his own.
During his college years, he met an amazing individual named Kate O’Donnell at El Centro de la Raza at UNM. She was a Spanish tutor working for the University. The young man shared his career goals with her, and she referred him to Casa de Salud. This was a clinic located in the heart of the South Valley Community in Albuquerque, NM. He was fortunate to start working with the clinic where he felt connected with the community; it reminded him of his hometown. He saw a common encounter between the people in the clinic and loved ones from his hometown; it was the battle to manage diabetes. It was when his career as a health professional began that he learned valuable skills from clinicians, community members, and patients.
Eventually, he became the head of the diabetes program at the Simiply Salud Clinic. As a Paul Ambrose Scholar, he was selected to help reduce the rates of patients diagnosed with diabetes with a hemoglobin A1c value greater than 9%. He felt passionate about this public health issue because of how it has affected generations in the past, present, and future, especially the Latino community. This Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicator (LHI) was specifically chosen because of his observation of the Latino population during his time at the Simply Salud Clinic. There were countless patients who had attended the Clinic for the first time leaving with the diagnoses of Type II Diabetes Mellitus with hemoglobin A1c levels of 9 or greater. He wanted to give back to his underrepresented Hispanic community who had limited resources. When you become “apegado a tu raiz y dejas que el corazon decida,” life has a purpose. This is why his heart was filled with the joy of helping his community.
With all this on his plate, he was still saving money to help bring his entire family to the US for a better life. After three years of working two jobs, saving money, and getting into a master’s program for free, he brought his family – his father, mother, and two younger brothers – to the states. They were all living in a small, two-bedroom apartment with limited space, but at least they were altogether once more. Nevertheless, these circumstances were not an impediment for him achieving his dreams.
The young man felt that he could do even more for himself and his family. Due to the lack of space, it was always a challenge to study without distractions, so he spent countless late nights studying at the office. The young man decided that during his master’s program he would build his credit score to afford a house for his family. After completing his master’s in Public Health, he worked another year and half and was finally able to purchase a home.
Simultaneously, he had decided to apply to medical school in the US, but had not received any acceptances; so, he instead applied to American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the stressful time of moving into his family’s new home, he received a call that he had been accepted to begin in the September 2020 semester. He was in complete and utter disbelief. He cried so hard with happiness to the point of shaking after hearing the news. With all the hardships, obstacles, and experiences that this man had to go through, he could finally see why it was all worth the struggles.
Stay tuned to learn more about the journey of Fadi Ali Jamaleddin Ahmad (the main character), future MD at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, class of 2024.