Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Epilepsy expert with a passion for improving the lives of others

It has been a long and sometimes rocky road of learning and discovery from war ravaged Lebanon via research laboratories in Gainesville, Florida, to the tranquil surrounds of Education City in Doha for WCMC-Q Professor of Clinical Neurology Dr. Basim Uthman where he holds the deputy chair of neurology. By training, Dr. Uthman is a specialist in neurology and a subspecialist in epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology.  He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology.

A world-renowned expert on epilepsy and an internationally respected neurologist, Professor Uthman remains humble to his calling in medicine. He is also passionate about helping others and the need for quality patient care. As a member of faculty in a prestigious medical school at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and consultant at the affiliated teaching tertiary medical center of Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Dr. Uthman embraces the need for high quality undergraduate and graduate medical education that will lead to well-trained, safe, competent and compassionate doctors.

“I like this place, I like to be involved in different things that aim for the benefit of the students and the success of the institution and that drives what I do.  I am the vice chair of neurology and we work closely with the Department of Neurology at the Weill Cornell campus in New York and colleagues at HMC,” Dr. Uthman said.

Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, Dr. Uthman moved to Beirut to complete his final years of high school before starting a baccalaureate degree on a scholarship. His schooling was interrupted at the American University in Beirut when civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975.  Nonetheless, he managed to graduate on the Dean’s Honors list with a degree in biology and chemistry and then started medical school a few months later.

During his time at medical school, Dr. Uthman did a few months of electives in the US and by the time he graduated he decided to move on to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he completed a three-year residency in neurology. This was followed by a year of fellowship in clinical physiology and epilepsy.  

“Then I moved to the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, and worked with world renowned epileptologist, Dr. B.J. Wilder and learned the ropes about clinical research, how to run clinical trials in epilepsy and neurodegenerative disease.  I feel blessed I was at the right place and the right time when I had the opportunity to be one of the first pioneers to study the safety feasibility of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), a novel untraditional therapy for patients with refractory epilepsy,” Dr. Uthman said.

“After years of hard work and large, pivotal, double-blind and controlled multicenter clinical trials my colleagues and I proved the effectiveness of VNS in treating seizure disorders. Several years after we started our work in 1988 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved VNS, in July 1996, as an adjunctive therapy for patients with intractable partial onset epilepsy.”
There are now more than 60,000 patients that are implanted with this device in the world.

For relaxation, Dr. Uthman likes nothing more than to hit a few tennis balls around the court and he also has a love of cooking. “That is only when my wife allows me into the kitchen,” he said. He enjoys spending time with his family that includes three young children.  “More recently I started going to the Qatar Music Academy because my children have started going there last year and I want to encourage them. So I have started taking lessons with them. I am learning the clarinet,” he said.

In the three years that he has been at WCMC-Q, Dr. Uthman, colleagues and staff have been organizing and delivering the Medicine and U public lecture series as a means of raising awareness about illness in the community. “To me as a doctor, I feel that part of our obligations to the community where we live is to educate the community. So if I can help even as few as one more patient from a talk that a colleague or I give or moderate, I want to do that,” he said.

As a relative newcomer to Qatar, he remains undaunted by the difficulties that newcomers often encounter. In an unflappable style, he remains positive and ready to help wherever he can.

“People talk about coming to a new environment and you always feel like a bit of a stranger. Well, in my opinion as it developed when I was a scout in childhood, people that move to live anywhere in the world, they should make that place their community. When they grow a sense of ownership in that community, they get involved with that community in whichever expertise they have. Then they will no longer feel as strangers. They will feel like a part of that community.”

In being a part of the community in Qatar, Dr. Uthman also hopes to start a Gulf Epilepsy Foundation in the region. He is hoping to raise awareness of epilepsy in Qatar and the GCC region. He was asked by the International League against Epilepsy to lead a task force that included colleagues in K.S.A., U.A.E. and Lebanon to come up with statements that would apply to the lives of patients with epilepsy and policies regarding epilepsy -- for example driving with epilepsy.

“What I am hoping for is that we can partner with the government and we have a wonderful government here in Qatar. They are progressive and very open to improvement of lives of people in general,” Dr. Uthman said.  “Qatar is a good working place and safe and nurturing environment for my young family; I look forward to many years of productivity.”

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