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Biographical entry Yacoub, Ahmed Abdel Aziz (1931 - 2013)

MB BS Khartoum 1956; FRCS Edin 1961; FRCS 1961; MRCP Edin 1964; FRCP Edin 1972; MSc Khartoum 1974; FACS 1976; FRCSI 1980; LLB Cairo 1986; MSc Khartoum 1996; PhD London 2000.

12 January 1931
Gubbat Salim, Abri, Sudan
26 April 2013
Cardiothoracic surgeon


Ahmed Abdel Aziz Yacoub, widely known as Ahmed Abdel Aziz, was a pioneering Sudanese cardiothoracic surgeon. A charismatic leader and gifted teacher, he was a staunch advocate of training in surgery in the Sudan. He was born in Gubbat Salim, Abri, in northern Sudan on 12 January 1931. His father was a civil servant who was employed in the customs department. Ahmed was the second eldest son from a family of three brothers and one sister. He received his primary education at Port Sudan, Sudan's second city, and in 1946 he was part of the first cohort of pupils to be enrolled at Wadi Saynda Secondary School, one of the first schools established by the British in the 1940s based on the Eton and Harrow model.

In 1950, Ahmed was accepted into the Kitchener School of Medicine (it became the University College Khartoum in December 1953), obtaining the college prize in his first year. He had a very distinguished undergraduate career, obtaining several prizes, including Jackson's prize in pathology, the Waterfield prize in public health, and the Archibald prize in community medicine. He graduated with a distinction and a prize in surgery in April 1956 (by then the University College Khartoum was renamed the faculty of medicine, Khartoum University).

As a student and surgical trainee, Ahmed Abdel Aziz was mentored by B Hickey, the first professor of surgery at Khartoum and, following his graduation, he was trained at Khartoum by William MacGowan, senior lecturer to the faculty of medicine and senior surgeon to the health services. Later on, the two became close friends. William MacGowan was the first to perform a cardiac catheterisation at Khartoum Hospital in 1957, and the first to have performed cardiothoracic surgery there. It was probably MacGowan who encouraged Ahmed's love of cardiothoracic surgery, which was by then an evolving specialty. Julian Taylor, who succeeded Hickey at Khartoum, was very passionate about the training of young Sudanese surgeons, an enterprise Ahmed would eventually successfully take on.

Through the guidance and encouragement of his mentor Julian Taylor, Ahmed was posted to the UK, where his surgical career blossomed. In January 1960 he was appointed as a surgical registrar and lecturer in the department of surgery at University College Hospital, London. He obtained his FRCS from the Edinburgh College in January 1961, and from the English College in May of the same year. His early success in obtaining these fellowships paved the way for many other young Sudanese doctors to follow suit.

Ahmed returned to Khartoum in January 1962 and spent one year at Khartoum Hospital. He then returned to the UK, where he trained in cardiothoracic surgery in Birmingham with the most distinguished professor of cardiothoracic surgery of that era, Alphonso Liguori d'Abreu. Ahmed then spent the following year with Andrew Logan at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. During this later spell he decided to sit the membership examination (cardiology) of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the first Sudanese doctor to combine surgical and medical postgraduate qualifications in this way.

On returning to Khartoum in 1965, Ahmed was appointed chief surgeon at the cardiothoracic section at Khartoum, and he retained this post until 1983. Ahmed's quest for excellence in cardiothoracic surgery took him to yet another guru: in 1965 he crossed the Atlantic to visit Michael DeBakey (and also Denton Cooley) at Houston, Texas.

In 1974 Ahmed obtained an MSc in surgery from his old university at Khartoum, and in 1972 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In 1976 he was awarded the fellowship of the American College of Surgeons. In that same year, Ahmed Abdel Aziz began to set the platform for open heart surgery in Khartoum. He first performed around 40 operations on animals jointly with Christopher Lincoln (of the Royal Brompton Hospital) and Salal Umbabi (of the faculty of veterinary medicine at Khartoum University). From 1979 through to 1981, open heart surgery operations were carried out on human patients with input from Sir Magdi Yacoub and Donald Ross. Over 20 operations were performed without a single mortality.

From the 1970s, Ahmed Abdel Aziz encouraged and supported the training of scores of young Sudanese surgeons in Europe and beyond, an enterprise he executed with zeal and perfection. He used his extensive network of previous colleagues, mentors and friends to obtain paid training posts, in UK and Ireland in particular. His earlier links with Bill MacGowan proved to be the backbone of this enterprise. And it was not just doctors who were trained: nurses and technicians were also needed in various surgical subspecialties. Many of these doctors and other medical staff are now scattered in every area of Sudan, and also in the Middle East region and beyond.

Ahmed's indefatigable energy and passion was not confined to medicine. He was an excellent administrator. He took responsibility for running the hospital where he trained and he excelled. Khartoum Teaching Hospital in the 1970s became an expanding empire, with almost every specialty represented and, from 1976 to 1983, he was its director. His tenure witnessed one of the best periods for service and education in the country. From 1989 to 1995 he was president of the Sudan Medical Council.

He also served his country as minister of sport and, in 1984, he was summoned by Colonel Numeri to help rejuvenate the Army medical corps. Ahmed took up the challenge and his efforts transformed the service.

He was also interested in the law. At the peak of his surgical career he joined the two faculties of law in Khartoum. First, he enrolled at the University of Cairo, Khartoum campus, where he obtained a licentiate in law in 1986. In 1995 he went on to enrol at the faculty of law, Khartoum University, and obtain a diploma in Sharia law. In the following year he gained an MSc in law from the same faculty. He then registered at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he was awarded a doctorate in July 2000 for a thesis on 'Responses in Islamic jurisprudence to developments in medical sciences'. The thesis was soon published as a book, The fiqh of medicine (London, Ta-Ha, 2001), and was later translated into Arabic.

Ahmed kept up his work in education and training past retirement age. He joined the newly established faculty of medicine at the Islamic University, Omdurman, where he founded the academic department of surgery. He was awarded a personal chair there. He maintained this post until shortly before his death.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz' last years were hampered by the frustrations of Parkinson's disease. Despite the progressive nature of this terrible and disabling condition, he retained his spirit and his mental strength. He died on 26 April 2013 during a visit to London, following a short illness with many complications. He was 82. He was survived by his wife Sayida Al-Dardiry Mohamed Ahmed Nugud, an eminent obstetrician, whom he married in 1960, two daughters and a son. His eldest daughter, Sarah, trained as an ophthalmologist. His son, Khalid, is a surgeon and is on the staff of the faculty of medicine at Khartoum University. His youngest daughter, Azza, has a PhD in socio-medical anthropology at London University.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz will leave a long-lasting legacy.

T A Elhadd

The Royal College of Surgeons of England