Pictured (l-r) Dr. Rasha Ali and Dr. Rabeea Janjua

New Year, New Adventure

Two friends and colleagues — both mothers — take on medical relief together for a second time

“I can’t stop thinking about my trip. When can I go back?” Those were Dr. Rabeea Janjua’s thoughts after her first medical relief mission in June 2018. Dr. Janjua, an ophthalmologist, joined IMANA Medical Relief (IMR) in Jordan as part of its SaveSyria cataract surgery program. She used her medical expertise to operate on 100 Syrian refugees residing in Jordan, providing them with the gift of sight at no charge. Up for the challenge again, she and good friend and colleague Dr. Rasha Ali are headed to Jordan for the second time together to make a difference in January 2019.

Dr. Janjua’s lifelong dream had been to do medical relief. After finishing her residency in 2008, she focused on career and family. Fast forward ten years later to an encounter with Dr. Ali at the May 2018 IMANA Ramadan kickoff event. Dr. Ali always wanted to do some good for humanity and had started a couple years out of medical training. The Des Plaines, IL-based ophthalmologist and cornea specialist had been to Bangladesh with another medical relief organization.

“We had been friends and colleagues over a decade, since I was a med student and she was a resident in training,” said Dr. Ali.

They both spoke of their interest in medical relief. Wouldn’t it be fun to do a mission together?

They signed up the next month.  “I was contacted and given first dibs — it just worked out really nicely,” said Dr. Ali.

The timing could not have been more perfect. Drs. Janjua and Ali, both mothers with six kids between the two, found they were both at a good point in motherhood and career to be able to step away from everyday life to do this. Dr. Janjua made it an opportunity for her four children to take advantage of some family time with grandparents.

In Jordan, they operated on patients aged 43 to 92 years old. “Cataracts are very debilitating; there is a profound impact,” said Dr. Ali. “The key is to prevent blindness,” said Dr. Janjua.

Dr. Ali was surprised at the advanced technology and facility for the procedures. It was what she was used to in the United States. “I’m impressed with IMANA for its selection of a top-rate facility and philosophy to provide the best standard of care for refugees.” She visited with some of the patients afterward and was humbled. “This was a dream come true – this is why I studied medicine. Patients typically said, ‘you gave me my life back.’ A woman grabbed my cheeks and wouldn’t stop kissing me. Others said they would pray for me. When you get there you realize what a huge need there is.”

Six months later, this dynamic duo is at it again. “Humanitarian work has always been one of my goals; it’s one of the reasons I chose to pursue medicine,” said Dr. Janjua. “While it was not without its challenges and stresses, the experience working with refugees in Jordan was so rewarding that I was already thinking about future trips on the flight back. Just like the first time, the mission came at a good time to be able to get away for a short while in my life.

We had such a positive experience sharing our commonalities of being clinicians, surgeons, and mothers, and we just work well together! This [trip] was also decided on the flight back home!”

“I consider it a privilege to be able to go back, and that going with Rabeea- women working together, supporting each other, empowering each other- is definitely an added bonus,” said Dr. Ali.

The mission team will consist of Drs. Ali and Janjua, and Dr. Baseer Khan, an opthalmologist from Ontario, Canada who has done several IMR missions. The trio will operate on 200 patients, double the amount from June.

“After doing three missions, this feels like an obligation for me,” said Dr. Ali. “I’d probably like to do one a year.”

“We are so insulated here in the states — we are not up against hardships,” she said, upon reflecting on her volunteerism for refugees.

“You get to the point in life where you start wondering, ‘what is your legacy?’”

If you are interested in volunteering with IMANA Medical Relief, visit www.imana.org/volunteer.

To donate to IMANA Medical Relief, visit www.imana.org/donate.