Ayesha Fatima is a pediatric gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan; the founder and chair of Women Physicians for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that serves women and children domestically and internationally; and the vice president of the Syrian American Rescue Network (SARN), a nonprofit that assists incoming refugees.
I could see the differences in the opportunities my brother got versus me. He was expected to be a physician. I was expected to do a bachelor’s in science, marry, and be done. It was surprising for my family when I wanted to get into medicine. I got engaged at 19, and before 20 I was married, but with one rule. My dad said, “She wants to continue her education.”
When I had my daughter during residency my dad came to visit, but he had a massive stroke. When he lost his speech, I felt like I lost him. I couldn’t talk to him anymore. I went through depression. It was one of the hardest times of my life.
But I knew I had to carry on because of my dream, for the kids’ sake, and to be independent. I got into Brown [University] for a pediatric GI fellowship—I could have let go, but I wanted to finish.
He went in for routine surgery but had complications. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was making the decision to withdraw life support. That is a huge burden on kids. The worst burden. Oh, my God. The hardest thing was pulling the plug and seeing his heart rate drop down, 10-9-8… I can’t forget that.
My dad was one of the biggest humanitarians I’ve ever met, and was also my biggest strength. He was a physician, but he had no savings because he would give away everything. I wanted to continue his legacy. I find peace in my humanitarian work. I started considering it right after he died.
And since last year, when I could put that in motion, I feel like he is here.