The ceremony boasted so many figures of star stature but, beyond doubt, the one that made hearts leap with joy and tears swell with emotion was little Hana,
aged five. Radiant and joyful, the little girl fidgeted and ran around, oblivious to her parents’ efforts to keep her in line. Hana may never have made it there in the first place had she not been given a lease on life by the heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who performed two operations on her little heart when she was six months old and later when she was close to three. Now Hana was there with her parents, Mr and Mrs Karim Farid, invited to attend a ceremony to honour Sir Magdi, and she was impatient to hand him her own special gift.
Sir Magdi Yacoub, the heart surgeon of world renown close to the heart of all Egyptians, was honoured by Pope Tawadros II at a special ceremony on Thursday 23 January at the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Centre. His Holiness presented Sir Magdi with the Ola Ghabbour Award for Culture, Science and Human Services: a papyrus certificate and a glass and metal memento. On hand to participate in the honours was Anba Ermiya, head of the centre, and a number of public figures among whom were several of Sir Magdi’s medical colleagues.
Pope Tawadros began by welcoming Sir Magdi. “This is a blessed and joyful evening. We are so proud of Sir Magdi; we feel proud that he belongs to us and we belong to him. He is a source of pride for all of us in our beloved Egypt.” The Pope likened Sir Magdi to a shining star for the number of medals, awards and certificates he had received in the United Kingdom, Spain, Egypt and the Coptic Church.
On 26 January 2002, Pope Shenouda III had honoured Sir Magdi in recognition of his great work and dedication, and presented him with the Medal of St Mark.
New lease on life
Pope Tawadros said that the mere mention of Sir Magdi generated a good, genial feeling despite the hard times of crises and terrorism Egypt was living through. Sir Magdi, the Pope said, brought hope and joy to many families, to the point that many parents whose children were given a new lease on life through the heart surgeon’s intervention named a subsequent child after him. It helps, the Pope said with a happy smile, that ‘Magdi’ is a name used by both Muslims and Christians [Magdi is Arabic for Glory]. The heart surgeon, according to the Pope, walks in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who said: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I’ll give you rest”.
The weary are not the sick alone, the Pope stressed, but also their families and friends, a fact Sir Magdi deals with in kindness and understanding. The Magdi Yacoub Centre in Aswan is a place where people come from all over the world to find rest and treatment. The Pope said that at the centre, which he called “the second most important place in Aswan after the High Dam,” Sir Magdi worked like a fine artist.
“If you look at his face and his beautiful smile you see a kind, dedicated man,” he said. “This picture is engraved on the mind of each and every person or patient he has supported, and I know that he believes in the Bible’s words: ‘All things work together for the good of them that love God.’ Anyone who loves God tackles difficulties and challenges with firm faith, because he believes that God will be with him.”
Rifaat Kamel, a liver specialist and member of the advisory board of the Coptic Cultural Centre, said there were many lessons young people could learn from Sir Magdi, who was awarded the UK’s Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth in this year’s New Year Honours list, an award previously given to Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. Dr Kamel said Sir Magdi never boasted of his achievements, and never failed the sick and needy. His “endless giving” did not stop at the medical field where he has an enviable record of singular achievement, but generously extended to his Church and country. Sir Magdi believes that Copts should positively and actively interact with their wider Egyptian community, Dr Kamel said; he was himself a member of the Committee of the Fifty that wrote Egypt’s new Constitution.
“When we speak of Sir Magdi,” Mohamed Ghoneim, founder of the Urology and Nephrology Centre in Mansoura, said, “we speak about humbleness and patriotism. He has travelled all over the world, but his love for Egypt brought him back home to establish a unique centre not only for heart surgery but also to train doctors and nurses. He has struggled to include articles about health and education in the new Constitution. Sir Magdi is a unique example rarely found nowadays.”
In a speech distinguished by its utmost humility, Sir Magdi spoke in English then in Arabic. He thanked the Coptic Cultural Centre and Pope Tawadros for the award and their hospitality. “Today’s celebration is a great honour I never dreamt of and feel that I don’t deserve,” he said. He claimed he was the product of what he learned from those he called his teachers and professors. Major among these, he said, was Ola Ghabbour who through profound love, dedication, and arduous effort, established and worked with the 57357 Hospital for Children with Cancer. There was also Dr Ghoneim, who established the Urology and Nephrology centre in the Delta town of Mansoura. Sir Magdi said it was Dr Ghoneim’s idea of setting up a first-class medical facility in a provincial town away from the capital that inspired him to establish his cardiac centre in Aswan.
The ceremony had kicked off with a speech by Anba Ermiya, who listed Sir Magdi’s achievements and the medals and awards he had received. He said it was worth contemplating Sir Magdi’s patience, kindness, creativity and scholarship, his high managerial skills and the way he took up challenge and never gave up on a difficult problem.
A documentary about Sir Magdi was screened in which his siblings and their grandchildren spoke about him, and fellow members of the Royal College of Surgeons talked of instances and anecdotes with him.
Last December a British man, John McCafferty, 71, became the world’s longest heart transplant survivor. When Sir Magdi, then Mr Yacoub, performed the operation to give him a new heart at Harefield Hospital in October 1982. Mr McCafferty had been given five years to live.
Sir Magdi Yacoub
• Sir Magdi was born to a Coptic family of a surgeon father in Belbeis in the east Delta province of Sharqiya in November 1935
• He studied at Cairo University and qualified as a doctor in 1957
• In 1962 he moved to Britain where he trained, then taught in Chicago.
• He became consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Harefield Hospital from 1969 to 2001 and Royal Brompton Hospital from 1986 to 2001.
• He was appointed professor at the National Heart and Lung Institute in 1986, and was involved in the development of the techniques of heart and heart-lung transplantation.
• He retired from performing surgery at the UK National Health Service in 2001 at age 65.
• In 2001, he founded and became Director of Research of the Magdi Yacoub Research Institute, Harefield
• In 2008, Sir Magdi founded the Magdi Yacoub Research Network, London, which he chairs.
• Sir Magdi is notable for saving many lives by pioneering a technique for ‘switching’ the heart vessels of babies born with transposition of the great arteries, a congenital heart defect in which the two major vessels carrying blood out of the heart, the aorta and the pulmonary artery, are switched.
• In 1995 he founded the UK charity Chain of Hope (www.chainofhope.org). This charity aims to provide children suffering from life-threatening disease with the corrective surgery and treatment to which they do not have access.
• He is one of few masters and teachers in the world of the highly technically demanding “Ross Procedure”.
• Sir Magdi established the largest heart and lung transplantation programme in the world where more than 2,500 transplant operations have been performed. He has also developed novel operations for a number of complex congenital heart anomalies.
• In 2006 he briefly came out of retirement to advise on a complicated procedure which required removing a transplant heart from a patient whose own heart had recovered. The patient##s original heart had not been removed during transplant surgery nearly a decade earlier in the hope it might recover.
• In April 2007, it was reported that a British medical research team led by Yacoub had grown part of a human heart valve, from stem cells, a first.
• He established the Aswan Heart Center in April 2009 in the Upper Egypt town of Aswan to help children with heart problems find the right medication.
• Sir Magdi has an active interest in global healthcare delivery with particular focus on Egypt, the Gulf Region, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Jamaica. His Chain of Hope charity treats children with correctable cardiac conditions from war-torn and developing countries and establishes training and research programmes in local cardiac units.
• He was honoured and given numerous awards among which was a lifetime outstanding achievement award in recognition of contribution to medicine by the UK Secretary of State for Health in 1999, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Heart Failure Summit in 2001, the WHO prize for Humanitarian Services in 2003, International Society for Heart & Lung Transplantation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, the 2007 Medal of Merit by the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, the Grand Nile Collar for science and humanity in 2011, and the American College of Cardiology Legend of Cardiovascular Medicine in 2012.
• He was knighted in 1992 and awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2014 New Year Honours.
29 January 2014