As a high school student, Abdalla Zarroug, MD, thought about being a physician. He was impressed by the physicians he met and how committed they were to their patients.
It was when his father became ill and he saw how physicians helped save his father's life that becoming a physician became more than a thought. He remembers thinking the experience was "amazing watching my father get better because of special expertise." It was his first insight into how physicians can make a difference in the lives of patients and families.
Years later, when he was a pediatric surgeon, another personal experience -- as the father of twins born early and hospitalized for some time -- taught him a lot about empathy when relating to his patients and their families.
"Once I went through that experience, I genuinely understood the fear and how traumatic it can be when your child is very ill," said Dr. Zarroug, chief of pediatric surgery at Children's Hospital & Medical Center and professor and chief of the UNMC Division of Pediatric Surgery in the Department of Surgery. "We have the opportunity to make a child better, but the ability to make the family feel better about their entire experience makes it more special."
He said what makes pediatric surgery unique is taking into account childhood development.
"If I perform this procedure or don't perform it, for example, the lung or mental development may be affected," said Dr. Zarroug who joined the medical centers on Feb. 1. "When we intervene surgically, we take into account the physical, emotional and intellectual growth of that specific child in their unique phase of growth."
Besides academics, discipline, knowledge and skill, he said being a successful pediatric surgeon means being able to communicate well with families.
"The family is an added element in pediatric surgery that is just as important as caring for the child. They are the ones that need to understand the special aspects of a given surgical intervention and it's our jobs to do that well," Dr. Zarroug said.
Throughout his career, Dr. Zarroug said, he has always taken opportunities to make a difference to patients, their families and to the community. Now he hopes to make a difference in Omaha and beyond.
"We have the opportunity to build on an already established excellent reputation and be the best pediatric surgery group in the larger region coupled with our mission of academic research and education."
In academics, he said he is most proud of his involvement in establishing a pediatric surgery training program in Sudan. At the time, there were seven pediatric surgeons in a country of 40 million people and no training programs in the entire country. There are now 32. And while working at Sidra Medicine in Qatar as a pediatric general and thoracic surgery division chief, he was part of a team that established a new children's hospital.
"I am very proud of the real accomplishments that were made in changing pediatric surgery health care in Qatar and the region, the entire team made a difference to many patients, we literally re-created a modern pediatric surgery enterprise" said Dr. Zarroug, who grew up in London.
Not only is he busy with work, he's a busy family man.
He's married with five children ages 10 to 17 years old -- two boys and three girls.
As for hobbies, he said it's too risky as a surgeon to participate in ramp skateboarding like he did for a good many years.
"You can break your hands," Dr. Zarroug said.
He does plan to continue playing soccer.
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