x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Two who were first through the door

Two doctors, who were among the first to arrive at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre, recall the early days.

Dr Ali Khalil, endocrinologist and intensive-care specialist Dr Khalil arrived in 2000 to set up the intensive care unit, but by 2004 his skills were needed elsewhere and he moved to run the endocrinology unit. The clinic, which moved into its own facility three years ago, has close to 7,000 registered patients, who make up to 28,000 visits a year. He was not always so busy. "I spent my first six months in Abu Dhabi alone - my wife and children were still in Canada - and I never unpacked my suits because I didn't need them. It was that quiet."

He describes those first few months as "a little frustrating" due to the mild patient load, and began to doubt his decision to relocate to the Middle East. His colleagues had a different outlook to the quiet days at work during those first few months of the hospital's start, he says. "They were all new to the area, very pleased to have time to explore the region, go fishing, play golf; to them this is the land of 'Ali Baba'."

Abu Dhabi was not an expensive place to live, he remembers. Hiring drivers, sending out laundry to be ironed, hiring a housemaid were all affordable luxuries. "There were groups of doctors who would go out camping in some area of the country each weekend, and by the end of the year, they knew the area so well, better even than people who have lived here all their lives." Those early, quiet days came to an end, and for the best, Dr Khalil adds. "After one year, things really began to pick up, and we have been getting busier and busier ever since."

Dr Michel Giguere, the head of maxillofacial surgery Dr Giguere is the first doctor in the UAE to carry out jaw reconstruction surgery; he now does more than 50 such operations a year. "When I first came, patients would consistently ask for reports to go abroad because that is what had been the norm for many of them." His response was: "Abroad has come to you." It was difficult at the beginning, he recalls. "I was completely alone in my department until 2006 when I got my first specialist, so it was tough, especially after the 2005 merge happened and patients increased."

Now, he says, victims of car crashes make up a significant number of his patients. Motorists who wear seatbelts are less likely to need his services, he adds. "It's imperative. The seatbelt is so essential; a patient can go from a minor facial trauma or facial fractures that are relatively easy to fix to something that is extremely complex just because of a seatbelt."