Dr. Sherif Emil is a professor of Pediatric Surgery at McGill University, the director of the Division of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and associate chair for Education in the Department of Pediatric Surgery at McGill. He is also a long-term Board member of Mercy Ships Canada.
For most people the path to study medicine would not include a trip through engineering school, but that’s exactly where Dr. Sherif Emil began his career. After growing up in a family of doctors, Sherif thought he would like to try something different and carve his own path. He completed an undergraduate engineering degree before coming to the realization that he really did want to pursue medicine.
“I like the personal aspect [of medicine], I like the interaction and I like the human aspect of it.”
That change in career path would lead him to specializing in pediatric surgical medicine in the United States and Canada and eventually would bring him to Mercy Ships. After accepting a position on the Canadian Mercy Ships board in September 2014, Dr. Sherif began preparations to visit the ship as a volunteer surgeon. Recently those plans came to fruition and he was able to experience the joy of serving in the operating theatre aboard the Africa Mercy.
“I’ve operated in many places in Africa, including university hospitals and the resources there are nowhere near what this ship has to offer in terms in medical care,” he says.
Dr. Sherif was most impacted most by a case involving a five month old baby, named Paulinah, who had the largest teratoma he had ever seen. Despite the number of obstacles that stood in the way of the baby’s survival, Dr. Sherif was impressed how Paulinah had chosen to live. In addition, Dr. Sherif was amazed by the care she received.
Paulinah’s case was the highlight of Dr. Sherif visit but he was also touched by the care he saw after the baby’s surgery.
“This is a difficult patient to take care of (because) you have huge incisions that need to heal. (You have) to keep the area clean and to keep the wound from getting infected takes a lot of work. This baby recovered without infection. It was a testament to the incredible amount of care and compassion the nurses showed this patient and every patient.”
“I’ve operated in Zambia and Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. You have the surgical skills, and you can sometimes get around a lack of equipment but it’s the post-op care that has always been our dilemma. We can do these cases but then there’s no neonatal ventilator or antibiotics are out or you can’t get a lab test done, so you get suboptimal results. That’s very different on the Africa Mercy.”
Aboard the ship, patients have access to state-of-the-art equipment, experienced surgeons and excellent nursing care, both pre- and post-surgery. A lot of preparation goes into selecting patients. Even before he leaves for a mission (having served three times) Sherif is involved in reviewing cases, looking at photos and planning his surgical tactics. This provides him with familiarity for his patients, even before he meets them. Once on board, he will do about 4-5 operations a day.
“The ship has a very responsible way of going about things. They target things they have prepared for and that they know can be done safely with the resources that are available. They will not engage in surgical adventures. That is one thing I really appreciate, in Canada, if a child came in with an incarcerated hernia and there was fear of bowel loss, they would go into surgery quite quickly. But patients in Africa can die of a strangulated hernia. It’s considered a lethal condition because often they won’t get treatment in time and their bowel will die and it will kill them.”
Sherif recently returned from Conakry, Guinea, where he worked alongside fellow surgeon Dr. Kathryn LaRusso from Montreal, Quebec.
“The ship is making a difference in the lives of families and communities. We had a saying when you save a child, you’re not just saving a life, you’re saving a lifetime and there are a lot of children that receive treatment on the ship.”