The cost of receiving healthcare can already be a burden for millions of individuals every year. And for many who live in developing nations, there’s an additional concern—when it comes to rare and serious health conditions, there may not always be someone locally who is capable of providing the care an individual needs.
Part of the reason for this is the number of bright, ambitious doctors who leave their home nations to practice medicine with the world-class research teams and equipment in countries like the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.
One Nigerian-born doctor, though, has founded an organization with his wife that enables him to travel back to his home country for a week every month—solely so he can help save lives without patients worrying about travel or costs.
Dr. Wale Sulaiman spends three weeks each month living in New Orleans, Louisiana, with his wife and children while serving as System Chairman of Neurosurgery and co-medical director of the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute.
Once a month, though, he boards a plane for Nigeria. He heads across the globe to perform free brain surgery for individuals who might not otherwise have access to it—and he started the RNZ Foundation, which also trains other bright young Nigerians to follow in his footsteps while raising funding to build a medical facility in Nigeria.
“If I have been given all these opportunities in life and the least I can do is to give back to the society,” he explained. “My philosophy is whether you are Nigerian, Vietnamese, an American, everybody should have access to some degree of good quality healthcare.”
Sulaiman has certainly been given a fortunate hand in life. He attended the Medical Institute in Varna, Bulgaria, before doing his fellowship training in complex nerve reconstruction at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, where he now works the majority of the time. He then attended the Medical College of Wisconsin to complete a complex spine surgery fellowship, and earned a PhD in neuroscience from University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
He uses that immense wealth of knowledge every day in New Orleans when he attends to patients stateside but recognized early on in his career that it’s not just Americans who deserve the highest levels of healthcare. That’s why he’s spent the last 19 years taking 17-hour trips across the Atlantic Ocean to help others.
It’s not just his time that he’s giving up when Sulaiman leaves his family in Louisiana and boards a plane every month. Few would fault him for feeling that the time commitment alone was too much to keep up—and fewer would fault him if he objected to the money sunk into things like travel, medical supplies, and lost hours at Ochsner.
Going beyond even the costs, though, Sulaiman actually invested more in order to ensure he was able to make the monthly trips while keeping his American job. He took a 15 percent salary cut with Oschner so that he could guarantee that he’d get the time off each month for his trips—meaning that not only was he spending his own money to go save lives a continent away, but he was also making less money than he would have if he stayed in the United States full-time.
The impact he’s had, though, shows just how valuable his work is.
Since Dr. Sulaiman made his first surgery-related trip to Nigeria in 2010, he’s performed surgeries on some 500 patients—and provided health screenings and other preventative medical measures for another 5,000 individuals. His surgeries aren’t all simple, either; he once performed brain surgery on a comatose woman in Nigeria who needed emergency attention. Thanks to his philanthropy, she was able to open her eyes and move around again.
“That’s why I continue to do it,” Sulaiman said. “Because I think you can really make a significant impact on people that would otherwise be hopeless.”