Imagine the excitement over this job offer – a rare opportunity to serve as personal pediatric surgeon for the Saudi Royal. In the 1980s, this unique experience was offered to Dr. Saad Saad for two reasons — he was the only board-certified pediatric surgeon in the U.S. who fluently spoke both Arabic and English.
Dr. Saad and his family stayed in the Saudi city of Riyadh the four-and-a-half years, and this time proved to be a very positive adventure.
A Chapter in an Interesting Life
How did a New Jersey surgeon qualify for this prestigious offer? His upbringing and education were the keys. Saad Saad was born in Palestine, raised in Kuwait, and was one of eight children – three Surgeons, two PhDs and two Master Degrees in Engineering, and a Teacher.
Dr. Saad earned his medical degree 47 years ago from Cairo University in Egypt with honors and ranked second in his class. He completed his internship in England, then immigrated to the United States 45 years ago. He did his residency in Surgery and in Pediatric Surgery, and is Board-Certified in Pediatric Surgery.
In the U.S., board certification is difficult. Special training, continuous surgical practice, and passing a rigorous exam every ten years are required.
A Respected Pediatric Surgeon
In Riyadh, Dr. Saad worked at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. The Protocol Office and the chief of the hospital called him into service to perform the simplest to the most complex surgeries.
Dr. Saad performed pediatric surgery on the youngest baby to have ever been admitted with an aneurysm. Not only did he save the baby, he convinced a world-class scientific journal to publish the details of the case in order to educate others.
The Protocol Office and the chief of the hospital highly respected Dr. Saad’s opinion as an experienced surgeon. His suggestions on whether to perform surgery at the hospital – or to fly the patient abroad -were taken very seriously. An assistant chief at the hospital personally trusted Dr. Saad to perform surgery on his son at King Faisal Hospital instead of flying him abroad.
Serving Both the Rich and the Poor
Although the hospital primarily serves the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, the royals from Bahrain, the UAE, and the Persian Gulf came to be treated at the hospital as well. The Hospital also serves the very poor with the most complex pediatric surgical problems.
Dr. Saad knows poverty very well. “I came from a poor family so I had no choice but to do my very best in med school,” he says. Dr. Saad speaks of his mentor, Dr. H Biemann Othersen in Charleston, SC, who ingrained this principle – that people are equal and deserve equal opportunities.
“The most valuable lesson I learned from him was to be kind, honest, hard-working, and to treat all children the same regardless of their color, religion, mental or physical abilities, or financial status,” says Dr. Saad.
In the U.S., Dr. Saad served his community but also helped children and young adults in the Holy Land. This included four Medical Missions in the U.S. and eight Medical Missions to Jerusalem and the West Bank to perform free complex surgeries on poor children.
This opportunity in Saudi Arabia gave Dr. Saad yet another opportunity to serve the poor by giving their children the very best surgery when they were most desperate.
Challenging the Status Quo
Dr. Saad Saad is an accomplished pediatric surgeon who has performed thousands of pediatric surgical operations during his career. As a physician, Dr. Saad was always seeking to improve traditional methods and procedures. He was constantly challenging the status quo to reduce pain and the risk his patients faced.
As a result, he developed many new pediatric surgical procedures and has patented two inventions.
Dr. Saad created a device that helps locate a catheter inside the body without any type of scanning machine. He went on to create another device – an endoscope with a self-contained suction that clears fluid to provide the surgeon with a clear view. Dr. Saad’s inventions allow doctors to prevent needless complications and perform their tasks in a faster, safer manner.
Creating a Surgical Residency Program for Saudi Students
On an everyday basis, Dr. Saad did much more than perform his duties as a surgeon.
He also helped create and develop a Surgical Residency Program there. He established a working connection and approval of the Royal College of Surgeons in England for students to receive their UK certification at home in Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Saad is proud of this achievement as he called it a remarkable accomplishment. Because of him, many students now have the opportunity to stay at home in Saudi Arabia for surgical training instead of having to train abroad.
Dr. Saad’s Family Time in Saudi Arabia
Saad has been married for 42 years and has four children – two Surgeons, one Lawyer, and an ICU Nurse. The children were all very young during their time in Saudi Arabia. He knew very clearly that the move would have a significant impact on his family and took that into account when accepting the job.
Originally, Dr. Saad was only supposed to stay in Saudi Arabia for a year. But he and his wife did not want to move the kids around too much as they were growing up and receiving their early years of education. So, as a family, they extended their stay. They would have stayed longer too, except that meant the kids would have to be sent to boarding school abroad to continue their education.
Enjoying the Global Experience
For Dr. Saad, there were several advantages living in Riyadh. He was happy to use his surgery skills to help prestigious patients and to earn the trust of the Royal Family. He also enjoyed giving lectures to the surgical club and spreading his knowledge to others.
Dr. Saad also enjoyed meeting people from all over the world in Saudi Arabia. With his family in tow, he used his free time to visit friends in Denmark, Sweden, Ghana, Egypt, England, Canada, Hawaii and many other exciting places. Now he has life-long connections with people from all over the world, all because of his position as the pediatric surgeon for the Royal Family. He is also happy his kids have made international friends and have received a first-rate education.
Life After Saudi Arabia
Dr. Saad’s time at King Faisal Hospital eventually had to end so he could return back to life in the U.S. to be closer to his family and have his children attend local schools. He was a high-demand surgeon, not an easy profession.
Dr. Saad is now retired and living in Red Bank, NJ. Prior to retirement, he was the Surgeon-in-Chief and the Co-Medical Director of K Hovnanian Children Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Care System.
He says, “If a poor Palestinian refugee can make it and be successful in America, you can too. Work hard and persevere!”
He recommends reading any book about President Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves and reiterated that all people are equal. “We are all equal in the eyes of God. Through the eyes of a pediatric surgeon, I know that all people were created with the same heart, lungs, liver, intestines, and other organs, no matter that person’s race, color, or religion,” Dr. Saad says.
Dr. Saad’s Rules of Surgery
He shares the details of his surgical protocols to help young surgeons in training. These habits were most helpful in preparing for surgery:
- Review the patient Medical Record and confirm what type of surgical procedure I am planning to do.
- Review the steps of the surgical procedure I’m planning to do. Especially, complex pediatric surgical procedures from the most recent operative pediatric surgical textbook.
When performing a complicated task like surgery, these rules helped him focus:
- No personal talking in my operating room
- No loud music
- A good night sleep and a good breakfast prior to surgery
The one habit that has made him more productive? “Organization. When I’m organized, I’m more efficient and won’t procrastinate the assignments that I’m expected to accomplish today.”
What advice would you give your younger self? “Reaching your goals is not impossible if you insist on it.”