A strong be­lief in com­mu­nity ser­vice

Albany Times Union - - FAITH & VALUES - — Rob Brill

to the U.S. Two of my broth­ers were al­ready here, liv­ing with fam­ily mem­bers. My fa­ther lived with one of my broth­ers, and my mother, my younger brother and I lived with her sis­ter un­til my par­ents could se­cure enough fi­nances to move to an apart­ment in Queens. My par­ents are now re­tired and still reside in Queens. How did you be­come a doc­tor?

I knew I wanted to be a sur­geon af­ter see­ing a PBS doc­u­men­tary on a heart trans­plant at age 10. When we re­turned to the United States, I was un­sure how to bring that plan to fruition. I got a job at a White Cas­tle fast-food res­tau­rant in Queens, while try­ing to fig­ure out how to con­tinue my ed­u­ca­tion. One day, I was home cry­ing to my mother and frus­trated that I did not have any idea how to pro­ceed. My un­cle, who was vis­it­ing, said there was a school within walk­ing dis­tance from my house — York Col­lege — and he sug­gested I should walk over and see if they would ac­cept me. I did just that. It was the last date for ac­cep­tance to the win­ter ses­sion. I was given a place­ment test and was ac­cepted in Jan­uary 1994. I went to med­i­cal school at Tem­ple Univer­sity in Philadel­phia and came back to New York as a sur­gi­cal res­i­dent at St. Vin­cent’s Hos­pi­tal in Green­wich Vil­lage. I got a car­dio­tho­racic surgery fel­low­ship at Al­bert Ein­stein­mon­te­fiore Med­i­cal Cen­ter in the Bronx. I then joined the Mt. Si­nai Hos­pi­tal as a clin­i­cal in­struc­tor, learn­ing com­plex mi­tral valve re­pair.

I was look­ing to go to an area that was not over­sat­u­rated with sur­geons trained in mi­tral valve surgery. I got a job in Utica with Mo­hawk Val­ley Surgery Group. How­ever, I wanted to be back in aca­demic medicine and joined the Al­bany Med­i­cal Col­lege fac­ulty. In Fe­bru­ary it will be six years. I do a lot of projects with stu­dents and res­i­dents as di­rec­tor of a car­diac surgery sim­u­la­tion lab. This is made pos­si­ble by peo­ple who do­nate their bod­ies to science, which is a no­ble thing to do.

How did grow­ing up on two con­ti­nents shape your faith and val­ues?

Liv­ing for an ex­tended pe­riod in two cul­tures, you re­al­ize what it’s like to have a lot — and not enough. You ex­pe­ri­ence sys­tems where peo­ple have op­tions and no op­tions. This shaped who I am. I be­lieve in the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity ser­vice.

My fam­ily is Catholic on my mother’s side, a legacy of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism, but my fa­ther’s par­ents were not. We are Ibo, one of the three main tribal groups in Nige­ria. Chris­tian­ity was not a rar­ity in the south­ern part of the coun­try. I went to church ev­ery day, not just Sun­days, and the mes­sage I got from that and read­ing the Bible was about how to treat peo­ple. I don’t think go­ing to church ev­ery day is as im­por­tant as what you do. The way you live, hav­ing em­pa­thy, lov­ing thy neigh­bor and do­ing unto oth­ers as you would have them do unto you is a lot more im­por­tant in my view.

Do you go back to Nige­ria?

Un­til 2012, there was no heart surgery in the coun­try of 180 mil­lion peo­ple. There is med­i­cal mi­gra­tion. If you have money, you go to London or In­dia. If you have no money, you suf­fer un­til you die. I work with the VOOM Foun­da­tion, which was started by a Nige­rian sur­geon and works with part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions. A re­tired nurse had spon­sored him to come to the United States and paid for his ed­u­ca­tion. He de­cided to go back to pro­vide care for peo­ple who didn’t have means to leave the coun­try. Af­ter I got es­tab­lished, Ial­sowant­ed­to­gob­ackto Nige­ria on med­i­cal mis­sions and to es­tab­lish a pro­gram. Dur­ing ex­plo­ration of that pos­si­bil­ity I got con­nected with him and joined his or­ga­ni­za­tion.

I’m grate­ful for my new role as board pres­i­dent with the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion. I’m glad to help in bring­ing aware­ness of heart health and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple on the im­por­tance of seek­ing care when needed, and help­ing raise funds to sup­port re­search for med­i­cal growth. I am thank­ful for the sup­port of Al­bany Med­i­cal Cen­ter. Life is why we do it.

Paul Buck­owski / Times Union

Dr. Adanna Aku­juo, a car­dio­tho­racic sur­geon, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Al­bany Med­i­cal Col­lege and pres­i­dent of the Cap­i­tal Re­gion Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion board. Born in New York City, she grew up in Nige­ria, com­pleted her ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try and re­turns to Nige­ria on med­i­cal mis­sions.

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