Sami Ibrahim HADDAD  M.D., I.S.S., F.A.C.S., G.M.B.

سامي ابراهيم حداد

(July 3, 1890 – February 5, 1957) 1

Sami Ibrahim Haddad1 

was the first Lebanese to be promoted to the rank of Professor of Surgery and Dean of the Medical School at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and to become a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (1934). He collected over 125 Arabic manuscripts on medicine and wrote extensively on the subjects of surgery, urology, and the history of Arab medicine and Arab hospitals. After his retirement from AUB, he founded the Orient Hospital in Beirut in 1947.

Haddad was born on July 3, 1890, in Jaffa, Palestine. He died on February 5, 1957, in Beirut. At the funeral, his students carried his coffin to the National Evangelical Church, while the empty hearse trailed behind. Haddad’s pious and puritanical nature derived from his mother’s uncle, Shakir elHaajj Dimyanos, a pillar of the orthodox community and church of Hasbayya. His love of work, perseverance, and determination came from his mother’s sister, Suwfiyya, a woman of great energy and endurance. The Haddad family of ‘Abeih nurtured many intellectuals, professionals, and businessmen, but none was as eminent as Gregorius Haddad, the saintly patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Orient.

Haddad’s preparatory education at the Bishop Gobat School (1901–1905) and the English College (1907–1909) in Jerusalem left an indelible mark on him. His assertiveness, honesty, discipline, and austerity most probably derived from his early Scottish high school teachers in Jerusalem, where he earned the Gibbon Memorial Prize in July 1906. Haddad graduated with the M.D. degree from the Syrian Protestant College (SPC) in 1913. Founded in 1866 by the American missionaries in Beirut, the SPC was renamed in 1920 the American University of Beirut. For seven years after graduation (1913–1919), Haddad practiced general medicine and public health, and taught the basic medical sciences at SPC. In 1919, he was nominated physician in charge of the Mental Disease Hospital at Asfuriyeh. When the U.S. King-Crane Commission (created by President Woodrow Wilson to poll public opinion in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) arrived in Beirut, he became its physician and interpreter.

Before Haddad joined the Department of Surgery of the American University of Beirut as adjunct professor of surgery in 1929, he was granted a Rockefeller Fellowship (1921). He married Lamia Morcos (1896 - 1994) from Latakia in 1921. She remained a devoted companion and ideal wife, and helped him raise six children, all of whom went on to successful careers in medicine, engineering, and the arts. True to recent theory about “the westward migration of civilizations”, his children eventually emigrated westward.

Together with his wife, Haddad traveled to the United States to be trained in urology at the Hopkins University under Dr. Hugh Hampton Young. After ten years of industrious preparation and indefatigable study (1913-1922), Haddad embarked on the difficult path of teaching and practicing urology and surgery. Stephen B. L. Penrose, Jr., who later became president of AUB, said on the appointment of Dr. Haddad to the faculty: “Dr. Sami Haddad was unexpectedly available, and this ‘first-class man in every particular’ became a permanent member of the faculty of the College.”

The first Lebanese to become a member of the International Society for Surgery (1931) and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (1934), Haddad was also a member of the University Council, the highest advisory body of the AUB (1938 – 1945). He served as president of the Medical Alumni Association (1927 – 1929). He led AUB’s delegation to the medical congress in Luxor (1934) and to the millennium of Avicenna in Baghdad (1952). In 1941, he became chairman of the Department of Surgery and Dean of the Medical School of the AUB. After a heated controversy with the president of AUB about part-time status, he became professor emeritus (1949). Twice, he was awarded the Lebanese Honorary Golden Order of Merit (1954 and 1956).

A prolific writer and historian, he wrote ninety-nine articles on various surgical, urological, and historical subjects, sixty-nine Arabic speeches, and radio talks on the history of Arab medicine, Arab hospitals, and health matters, and twelve books. Ten of his books were written in English, including Notes on Embryology (unpublished), Essentials of Urinary and Genital Disease (1946), and eight volumes of the Annual Report of the Orient Hospital (AROH) (1948 – 1955), The Contributions of the Arabs to the Medical Sciences (1936) and The Tradition According to Omar (1940) were written in Arabic. Half of his articles were written in English and half in Arabic. His articles on urology dealt with cystoscopy, pyelography, hematuria, genitourinary tuberculosis, renal and ureteral lithiasis, hemangioma of the bladder, calculi, prostatic enlargement, and prostatic cancer. He also published articles on various forms of cancer, hydatid cysts, traumatic aneurysms, perforation of the uterus with injury to the gut, foreign bodies of the abdomen and esophagus, diseases of the gallbladder and their surgical treatment, chest and lung surgery, elephantiasis, appendicitis, blood transfusion, spinal anesthesia, and the art of surgery. His research on the history of medicine resulted in articles on Arab hospitals, Ibn Nafiys (Ibn alNafyis, the nineteenth-century discoverer of the pulmonary circulation), Hippocrates, Galen, Arab dentistry, cesarean section, medical ethics, medical biographies, and a catalogue of the Arabic medical manuscripts he had collected. He also wrote the history of Arabic script, the medical problems of the Arab countries, and the Mameluke documents concerning the church of the Nativity in Jerusalem.

Although a genitourinary surgeon, Dr. Haddad was proficient in many other fields of general surgery. He had firsthand knowledge of embryology, anatomy, and physiology, subjects he taught for several years. He introduced to Lebanon, then the medical center of the Near East, newly developed methods of diagnosis and treatment, such as the cystoscope, the pyelogram, the PSP (phenolsulfon-phtalein) test, pulmonary collapse surgery in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, laryngectomy for laryngeal cancer, and orchiectomy for cancer of the prostate, and he reintroduced patellectomy for comminuted fractures of the patella. He also devised a new technique of retropubic prostatectomy that preserved the urethra. His ideas about prostatic cancer were almost identical with our present-day concept. In 1956 he said: “Don’t worry about cancer of the prostate … Man can have a cancer of the prostate and live to be 90 years old. You laugh at me when I say cancer of the prostate is nothing! There are however a few cases of bad cancer of the prostate … they need very careful attention.”

His surgical judgment was sound; years of experience and a brilliant mind made him one of the best diagnosticians of his time. He relied on technical and laboratory aids. In his surgery, he used the minimum number of instruments and equipment relying more on dexterity and agility. His surgical skill together with a meticulous concern for detail, a gentle and delicate touch, an experienced eye, and a vast knowledge helped him to obtain consistently good results. In 1944 he secretly operated on himself and resumed his work at the hospital the next day.

Although a Christian by upbringing, he was tolerant of other religions and had many friends, who belonged to other religions, and defended them and their interests under all circumstances. A handsome man with blue eyes, Haddad maintained a puritanical life style. Thrifty and frugal, he had a very shrewd business sense, especially in real estate matters. His ambition, eagerness to learn and study, and his prodigious energy knew no limit. Even after retirement, he could not remain idle; in 1947, he founded the Orient Hospital, a fifty-four bed nonprofit institution, and single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of its varied and intricate administration. He was its founder, superintendent, chief of staff, chief surgeon, roentgenologist, record keeper, and editor of its Annual Report.

He was a serious-minded teacher who insisted that students understand basic principles. He therefore simplified the subject he was teaching and boiled it down to its essential elements. He considered the operating room a holy sanctuary and insisted on approaching it reverently, never allowing the slightest joke or murmur. He was reluctant to teach new theories or techniques that had not been firmly established. However, he liked to bring forth the philosophical aspects of biology as applied to medicine. He was strongly opposed to smoking and abhorred the then rampant practice of prophylactic penicillin. He used to say: “Inject it in the mattress, it may be less harmful.” Several of his students followed in his footsteps and became famous physicians and surgeons; others established their own private hospitals; still others became writers, poets, historians of medicine, ministers, professors, politicians, researchers, and presidents of prestigious medical organizations.

Sick with heart disease the last five years of his life, he continued to work stoically, hiding his physical ailment from his nearest relatives. During his final illness, he performed a five-hour operation on a poor, young shepherd who had been paralyzed by a tumor of the spinal cord. Tragically, a few weeks after his discharge from the hospital, the young man was struck by a truck and died instantly. It was said that the “high powers above” sent the truck to seal his fate. A few days later Dr. Sami Haddad died.

The American College of Surgeons transmitted to his bereaved family and friends a memorial plaque tendering their sincere sympathy and their respect to his memory. The eulogy of the Senate of AUB ended in the following words: “Sami Haddad was an acquisitive and brilliant mind, and had limitless ambition, a strong moral fiber and boundless energy. He will be remembered as a great physician, an unforgettable teacher, a pioneering surgeon, an organizer and administrator of great ability, a prolific writer, an accurate and dedicated historian, a multifaceted collector, a shrewd business man, a devoted friend and a beloved husband and father.”

Farid Sami Haddad

Saad Sami Haddad

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Sami Ibrahim Haddad.

1 Lois N. Magner, “Doctors, Nurses, and Medical Practitioners’, 1997, p. 156 & ff