A Pediatric Surgeon on a Hospital Ship

Joy of Serving

Dr. 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 University.

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 specialize 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. Emil began preparations to visit the hospital ship as a volunteer surgeon. 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.

Removing a "Monster"

Dr. Emil was 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. Emil was impressed how Paulinah had chosen to live. In addition, he was amazed by the care she received. *Greek word for monster.

Paulinah’s case was the highlight of Dr. Emil’s visit, but he was also touched by the post operative care he saw after the baby’s surgery.

He states that these cases are difficult patient to take care of because of huge incisions that need to heal. Keeping the area clean and preventing the wound from getting infected takes a lot of work.  He gladly recall that this baby recovered without infection. To him, it was a testament to the incredible amount of care and compassion the nurses showed this patient and every patient.

A Whole Team Behind Healing

“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 hospital 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 many 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 four to five operations a day.

“The hospital 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.‘’

Emmanuel and his mother before his surgery on board a hospital ship. © Mercy Ships

Another patient, Emmanuel, who also had a teratoma removed on the Africa Mercy can thank Dr. Emil and his Senegalese colleague, Dr Aloïze who performed the surgery for this little baby who wasn’t even 1 year old at the time. The two surgeons had previously worked side by side for six months in Montreal. A few months later, Dr. Emil had visited Dr. Aloise at his hospital in Dakar. During his visit, Dr. Emil gave lectures, performed surgeries and worked with several Senegalese health professionals.

As a result of this collaboration, the pediatric department at the Dakar hospital now practices the latest surgical techniques and provides quality care to its patients.

Dr Emil is committed to his patients but also to train the next generation of surgeons. He invests time and energy inviting fellow surgeons to join onboard and making them part of the mission of bringing hope and healing to so many. In June, while both of our ships are in Dakar, he performed surgical interventions on the Africa Mercy with one colleague from McGill University.

“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.”

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Discover a Emmanuel’s story that was impacted by Dr Emil here >>