Life Lessons from Dr. Saad Saad, Pediatric Surgeon
Recently, I was given an opportunity to interview Dr. Saad Saad about his prestigious career as a highly successful and innovative pediatric surgeon. Dr. Saad not only had an interesting story to tell but he also left me with the simple life lessons he skillfully passed onto his children. I’ll share those lessons, and his story, with you today.
Dr. Saad recently retired after a 47 year career in medicine, but he leaves us with a lasting legacy of innovation, sacrifice, and service. When I was given the opportunity to speak with Dr. Saad, I had no idea how fascinating his story would be. My first question was, what motivated him to become a physician and his response surprised me. His answer shows what you can accomplish with your life if you set your mind to it.
Life Lesson #1 from Dr. Saad: Don’t accept anything but the success you seek
Dr. Saad was born in Palestine in the late 1940’s, at a time in world history when that region was undergoing rapid and dramatic changes. The creation of the State of Israel resulted in the forced relocation of many Palestinians, native to the region. At a very young age, while Dr. Saad’s father was traveling for work, his mother was instructed to quickly board a bus with her children to an unknown destination. On this day, she left the key under the welcome mat and left with nothing but the clothes on their backs, thinking she would return soon. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Dr. Saad and his family were being relocated to the West Bank, never to see their home again. His father would only see his family again after many hours of searching and ultimately after paying a boat owner a large amount of money to carry him by boat across a river so he could reunite with his family.
Dr. Saad’s father was a skilled petroleum mechanic at a time when oil in the Middle East was just being discovered and sold to foreign markets. In the 1950’s, with his skills in high demand, he moved his family to Kuwait. This is where Dr. Saad would spend most of his childhood years. While in school in Kuwait, Dr. Saad’s father planted a very important seed in his mind—a life lesson that would stick with him for his entire life. His father reminded him of his tough situation. He was part of a diaspora with no country, no passport, and seemingly no future. His father told him that the only way he would be respected is if he pursued a high level of education. Armed with a high level of knowledge, he knew he could do anything and be anybody in this world.
One day in the 1960’s, while he was in high school, Dr. Saad went with his brother to a construction site there in Kuwait. The summers in Kuwait can become brutally hot and this day was no exception. While at the site, the heat began to really affect him. After some time in the hot sun, he started feeling ill and eventually fainted. Later, after regaining consciousness, he realized that the hot summer day had given him a heat stroke. He reflected on his experience and realized he wasn’t meant to for outdoor labor. In the late 60’s in Kuwait, there was only one location in the entire country that was always air conditioned, the operating room. After discovering that information, Dr. Saad set his mind on becoming a pediatric surgeon.
It’s amazing that one of the most experienced, innovative, and successful pediatric surgeons this country has ever had ultimately decided to pursue his career because of one hot summer day in Kuwait. This should highlight the fact that you can literally do anything and be anybody you want if you set your mind to it and accept nothing but success. He told me, “If a poor Palestinian refugee can make it and be successful in America, you can too!”
From that day, he never wavered from his goal. With his father’s guidance to pursue a career that required years of education combined with his personal goal of working in a comfortable environment, his mind was set. Amazingly, Dr. Saad would not only become the pediatric surgeon he set his mind to become, but he graduated from medical school, with honors, as the salutatorian.
Life Lesson #2: Never wait until tomorrow to accomplish a task you can complete today
During our discussion, I asked Dr. Saad what daily habit makes him most productive. He quickly answered, “you should never wait for tomorrow to do something you can accomplish today.” As a physician, Dr. Saad lived by this rule. This lesson allowed him to achieve a higher level of success because he became very efficient with his time. He knew that a strong work ethic was the key to success, so each day he made sure to make the most of his time.
After immigrating to the United States, Dr. Saad set his mind to become a US Board Certified pediatric surgeon. A very rare accomplishment for any surgeon in the United States, at the time. This drive to enhance his knowledge and advance his education opened a very exciting door for his career. By the mid 1980’s he was the only board-certified pediatric surgeon in the entire United States that was fluent in Arabic and English. This made him a prime candidate for a very unique and prestigious position. he was asked to be the Pediatric Surgeon for the children of the Saudi Royal family as well to perform complex pediatric surgical procedure on any child in Saudi Arabia who needs it, a position he held until 1989.
After his return to the United States, Dr. Saad began thinking of ways to minimize pain and the recovery time for his patients. Over the years, he developed several new procedures to improve his care. One such procedure eliminated a second incision, on the child’s body, that was previously required. This new procedure offered the same result and became so successful that it was skillfully employed more than 2,000 times over his career. Can you imagine the complications that could have come from an extra incision on the fragile body of more than 2,000 young children? Without his drive for the highest level of procedural knowledge, his demand to always improve, and his passion for innovation, we know Dr. Saad was able to improve or save the lives of thousands of young children.
Finally, I asked Dr. Saad what advice he would give to his younger self. True to his life lessons, he told me, “reaching your goals is not impossible if you insist on it.” By listening to the wisdom of his father and being unwavering with his goals, Dr. Saad’s lessons are another excellent reminder of what we hear so often in America when we are young. We hear, “You can be anything you want to be if you set your mind to it.” From what you need to accomplish today to what you want to accomplish with your life, you alone are in control of your fate. Regardless of your background, here in this great country, your mind is your greatest asset. In my conversations with Dr. Saad, I learned from him to set your mind to become the person you want to be and do not delay advancing those goals if there is time left in the day.
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