Neurosurgeons can be thought of as super-engineers who work on the most complicated and delicate organ in the human body — the brain.
It takes a certain amount of super-human ability to be able to muster the sort of hand-eye coordination required to operate on the highly-vascularised structure that basically keeps humans “on”.
Could there be anything more superhuman than prying a person’s skull open, fiddling with the person’s brain, stitching the head close, and seeing them fully recover from an ailment that they couldn’t have recovered from by any other means?
Apparently, there is — leaving one’s job for days, taking the pay cut, and traveling 12,000 miles between two continents every month to perform free brain surgeries in one’s homeland.
Actually, that’s exactly what Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, 41, does like clockwork. The Nigerian-born medical doctor is a professor of neurosurgery and spinal surgery and chairman for the neurosurgery department and back and spine center at the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute in New Orleans.
He lives in Louisiana, but splits his time between the US and Nigeria, spending up to 12 days each month providing healthcare in the country of his birth — sometimes for free.
Sulaiman was born in Lagos Island, Lagos. He was one of 10 children born into a polygamous family. He told CNN that he shared a single room with all his siblings while growing up. They often slept on a mat on the bare floor.
Sulaiman was able to complete his secondary education, and for a moment, it seemed that was as far as he was ever going to get. That’s because his parents could not afford university tuition.
But at 19, the dogged Sulaiman won a scholarship to study medicine in Bulgaria through the Bureau for External Aid, a Nigerian government program targeted at improving the quality of life for Nigeria’s most vulnerable communities.
The Turning Point
That was the big break he needed, and ever since, his life and career have been a textbook case of forward and onward.
The trained neurosurgeon is now about “giving back and using his knowledge to improve the healthcare system.”
Sulaiman established RNZ Global in 2010 with some support from his wife, Patricia. RNZ Global is a healthcare development company that provides medical services including neuro and spinal surgery and offers health courses like first aid CPR in Nigeria and the US.
Quite aware of the deficit in physician-scientists (doctors with a combined degree in medicine and a Ph.D.) like himself, Sulaiman eventually decided to extend his expertise to his home country as well.
Charity On Steroids?
To make this happen, he took a 25 percent pay cut from his employer in the U.S. so that he can have longer holidays in Nigeria and help more people.
“I would use my vacation times for the medical missions, which were also planned with education and training sessions. We donated a lot of medications, equipment and hands-on training on surgical techniques,” he said.
Sulaiman has since performed many life-changing brain surgeries in Nigeria for free and he hopes to establish at least four neuroscience centers in Nigeria in the coming years.
RNZ Global now also has a non-profit arm called RNZ Foundation. The foundation, registered in 2019, focuses on managing patients with neurological diseases for free.
Apparently, some superheroes wear scrubs!
Featured Image Courtesy: CNN