x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

‘I’m a scientist as much as a doctor’: Emirati eye surgeon on why he wants to help others

Dr Khaled Abuhaleeqa is one of just 150 specialists in rare eye cancers

Dr Khaled Abuhaleeqa, who won young surgeon of the year at the recent Arab Health Congress. Born in Abu Dhabi, his expertise and methods are new to the UAE.  Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Dr Khaled Abuhaleeqa, who won young surgeon of the year at the recent Arab Health Congress. Born in Abu Dhabi, his expertise and methods are new to the UAE. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Dr Khaled Abuhaleeqa sees himself as a scientist as much as a doctor.

One of only 150 specialists in the world who can treat rare eye cancers, he says his reason for studying medicine is to help others.

“For me, the best reason is not money, it is not prestige,” says Dr Abuhaleeqa. “It’s actually measuring your success by making your patients happy.”

He was presented with the Young Surgeon of the Year Award at the Arab Health Congress last month.

“The easiest way to make people happy is to make them painless,” says Dr Abuhaleeqa, 40.

Born in Abu Dhabi, he returned from Canada in September 2011 and joined Mafraq Hospital.

He received a UAE scholarship after graduating from Abu Dhabi High Secondary School to study medicine in Dublin, Ireland.

Dr Abuhaleeqa worked as a general practitioner in ophthalmology from 1999 to 2003, then moved to further his studies at the University of Toronto where he was a fellow in ophthalmic and orbital oncology, oculoplastics and reconstructive surgery.

His expertise and methods are new to the UAE. He is the only Emirati ocular oncologist in the world. He has also introduced an endoscopic surgical method to open blocked tear ducts, a condition caused by a variety of diseases.

Dr Abuhaleeqa says his wife and daughter, 7, were big reasons for returning to the UAE, but he also wants to help his country.

Previously, general ophthalmologists had been treating rare eye cancers that need a specialist’s attention, he says.

“That’s my intention, that’s one of the reasons I went into this rare speciality – to provide a service that is needed and that’s not available,” says Dr Abuhaleeqa.

“Part of what is happening for me here is giving back what I got from my country.”

Ophthalmology also offers him a chance to study in a fast-paced field.

“I see it as a field in medicine that is quickly advancing,” he says. “I see myself as a scientist, not just a doctor.”

Another reason he chose the field was that eye surgery requires more precision, and he can often see immediate results in patients. Dr Abuhaleeqa is also fascinated by the instruments and tools involved.

He hopes he can continue to expand his volunteer and educational work. He is part of an educational programme through Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, or Seha, working with schools such as UAE University.

Zahra Al Sayari, a third-year medical student completing her residency in the Mafraq Hospital ophthalmology ward, says she appreciates the valuable experience of working with Dr Abuhaleeqa.

“He’s very easily approached and you can talk to him to express how you feel,” said Ms Al Sayari, from Abu Dhabi.

“He shows a lot of respect whether you’re a junior or a senior. He sees you as a human being.”

Despite having limited resources, she says, Dr Abuhaleeqa has tried to strengthen the educational programme there.

Dr Abuhaleeqa hopes his award – which he called humbling – will bring attention to little-known eye cancers. He says practising should define doctors.

“This work, medicine in general, is something that involves a lot of hard work. You can’t lag behind,” he says.

“As a physician, it’s not just your job. It’s who you are.”

lcarroll@thenational.ae