Cairo: As a child, he was devastated by the death of his youngest aunt due to a heart ailment. The 22-year-old aunt’s departure was a catalyst for Magdi, a son of a surgeon, to specify what he wanted to be: a heart surgeon. Years later, he fulfilled his dream and established himself as one of the world’s pre-eminent cardiac surgeons. Dr Magdi Yaqoub, nicknamed the “King of Hearts”, also runs a famed medical charity in southern Egypt.
Born on November 16, 1935 in Egypt’s Nile Delta province of Sharqia, Magdi studied medicine at Cairo University, Egypt’s leading academic institution. In the early 1960s, he travelled for a fellowship in Britain. There, he worked with cardiothoracic surgeon Donald Ross at the National Heart and Chest Hospital on repairing heart valves in people suffering acute valvular heart disease.
In 1968, he went to the US where he worked as an instructor and assistant professor at the University of Chicago. Later, he returned to the UK.
A milestone in Dr Magdy’s illustrious career was devising in 1977 the arterial switch operation in the transposition of the great arteries. Another was establishing a heart transplantation centre at Hareffield Hospital in West London. There, he performed a heart transplant for Derrick Morris, Europe’s longest surviving such recipient until his death in 2005. In 1983 Dr Magdy conducted the UK’s first combined heart and lung transplant.
After his retirement from the British National Health Service in 2001, Dr Magdy continued his innovative cardiac techniques and surgery. Seven years later, he co-founded in his homeland a heart institution that set up the Aswan Heart Project in southern Egypt, a donation-based charity offering free surgery. Babies with heart problems as old as one day are operated on there.
Around 1,000 open heart operations, 60 per cent of which on children are performed annually at the facility. Dr Magdi has appeared in several TV commercials promoting the charity.
Over the years, the Aswan Heart Project has made a big global fame.
“Success does not come easily,” Dr Magdi said in a recent interview. “But it is based on tools and rules to which my colleagues and I have adhered to since the first minute we started our work in Aswan. They include hard work, respect for competence and maximum respect for the patient away from favouritism,” he told private Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
Now at 84, Dr Magdi has another dream: building a new heart hospital in the Cairo suburb of October 6th City. The new facility is aimed at treating nearly 12,000 heart patients annually, according to the veteran professional known for his ready smile and modesty.
“We thought of this project after success achieved at the Aswan centre,” he said. “The idea is to build a world centre in an attempt to accommodate all patients who come to the Aswan centre and find ourselves unable to accept them,” the Egyptian-British surgeon added.
The new project is planned to admit heart patients from around the world, houses a cardiac research centre and a state-of-the art training centre. The service will be offered for free, too.
Dr Magdi’s humanitarian-based efforts have earned him acknowledgements in Egypt and abroad. He was awarded the UK Order of Merit in 1992. He was also awarded the WHO Prize for Humanitarian Services in 2003, and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation Lifetime Achievement Award a year later.
In 2011, Egypt’s then president Hosni Mubarak bestowed on Dr Magdi the country’s prestigious medal Order of the Nile in recognition of his dedicated efforts in the field of heart surgery.
“I do not want my expertise to end after I die,” Dr Magdi said in an interview with Hope Makers, a major regional initiative honouring philanthropic efforts.
“I want the march of treatment to continue and Arab societies to overcome disease,” he added.
“The titles that I have obtained were never among my priorities. I am just proud and pleased of seeing the people of my nation jubilant about their recovery.”