My Time in Saudi Arabia, Part III

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Most signage is in Arabic and English. Green is the national color of Saudi Arabia.

“Cancer will touch the lives of everyone — either through their own diagnosis or that of a loved one or friend. A notoriously dreadful illness, cancer is a leading cause of death. It strikes regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, or age.” — Dr. Mary Beckerle PhD, CEO and Director of Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Paige Peterson, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation at the C3 Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The C3 Saudi-American Healthcare Forum was developed to explore the different roles that business and government can play to advance “healthcare diplomacy” between the United States and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The three C’s stands for:
Community: create a global healthcare platform for exchanging “best practices.”
Collaboration: promote dialogue and grow existing relationships critical to collaborative medical research, bilateral practice and “healthcare diplomacy.”
Commerce: facilitate new healthcare ventures and opportunities to stimulate “medical tourism and research.”

Our Huntsman team travelled to Riyadh to participate in the Forum, which was attended by more than 1,000 people from around the globe. We met with some of the most renowned cancer specialists and researchers in the Kingdom.

Dr. Sultan Al-Sedairy, Executive Director at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH&RC), Paige Peterson, Dr. Yasmin Al Twaijri, Deputy Chairman of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Scientific Computing, Patrick Mancino, Director and Executive Vice President of the National Council on US-Arab Relations, and Susan Sheehan, President and COO of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Sultan Al-Sedairy was our charming host. We began by getting to know each other with traditional Arabic coffee, juices and sweet dates. We felt as if we were in his living room. There was no urgency in our meetings. Our host asked about our families, our visit, our accommodations, and our purpose before we embarked on our private tour of the hospital.

A KFSH&RC photographer followed us around. Of course … .I loved it.
Dr. Brian Mayer, Chairman of the Department of Genetics, talking to Susan Sheehan and me. He is an Australian citizen and has worked at the hospital for 14 years.
Far left: The doctor working on her research is wearing her niqab/head scarf. After a while it all seemed common and routine to see woman with their faces covered. What fascinated us as we moved through the hospital was that we also met women with their heads totally uncovered, with no niqab. It’s a matter of choice and how a woman chooses to cover or not varies. For example, some women may still choose to cover. The bottom line is, they are all educated and spend their days in an environment where men and women work side by side to research, prevent and treat cancer.
KFSH&RC was opened by King Khalid in 1975.
KFSH&RC is a 985-bed care center. The hospital has more than 11,000 employees from 63 different nationalities.
KFSH&RC treated approximately 70,000 patients last year.
After spending the afternoon with Dr. Al-Sedairy, it was clear that he has respect and devotion from fellow doctors and staff. He moves throughout the hospital with an easy banter, a lightness of being and an amazing sense of humor.

Earlier in the week Dr. Randall Burt spoke of Utah’s unique research advantage – a database that includes more than seven million individual medical records that are combined with genealogies comprising many large families and extending back for up to 14 generations. Because the database is so large, more cancer genes and disease genes have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah than at any other institution in the world.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the breast and ovarian gene mutation given by Angelina Jolie as the reason for her double mastectomy. Using this database, Dr. Burt was involved in both the discovery of the primary gene for colon cancer and identifying families with increased cancer risk for that malignancy. Today genetic testing for cancer predisposition is widely used.

The next evening HRH Prince Faisal bin Bander Al Saud inaugurated and cut the ribbon at the C3 Health pavilion during the opening gala reception.

He stopped by our booth for a lively chat.

Dr. Yagob Yousef Al-Mazrou, Secretary General, Saudi Health Council, HRH Prince Faisal bin Bander Al Saud, Mr. Adel A. Shakoor, Paige Peterson, and Dr. Kristi L. Koenig, University of California, Irvine.
Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President & CEO of the National Council on US-Arab Relations, addressing the conference at the opening session of the 3C summit. Dr. Anthony is as smart as can be, with an extraordinary gift for memory recall.

Prince Faisal bin Bander Al Saud, Dr. Randall Burt, and the Honorable Joseph W. Westphal, the United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Huntsman Cancer Foundation was presented with an award for its outstanding contributions to cancer research.

It was only fitting that Dr. Burt accepted the award, given his personal contributions to the field.

Dr. Burt discovered a dangerous inherited colon cancer syndrome called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

If FAP is not treated, there is almost a 100% chance of a person developing colorectal cancer. FAP increases a person’s risk for many other cancers as well.

Today genetic testing is available to identify persons at risk.

The elegant stage from which the 3C proceedings were conducted.
Dr. Randall Burt and Patrick Mancino listening attentively to a translator through their earphones.
Another award recipient, Dr. Alsaggaf, a director at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington DC, with Ransel N. Potter, Founder & Managing Partner C3 International, and Dr. Randall Burt checking out each other’s awards.

I very much enjoyed being seated next to Dr. Selwa Al-Hazzaa. She is the first female doctor to hold the position of Consultant of Ophthalmology at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. Forbes International Magazine chose Dr. Al-Hazzaa as one of “The Most Powerful Arab Women.” She is also a member of the Shura Council. (More on that next week.) She regaled us with a series of entertaining and provocative stories about her life. This is such a wonderfully verbal culture.

Paige with Dr. Al-Hazzaa.
Dr. Burt receiving his award in the grand exhibition hall. The sea of men in their crisp thobes (It is the traditional Arabian clothing for men — a long white tunic) with their marvelous Uqal (headdress) was a visual delight.
Being interviewed by Waleed Al Khanfoor for Saudi TV with Patrick Mancino waiting in the wings.

A few years ago when Jon Huntsman joined Warren Buffett, George Lucas, Boone Pickens, Paul Allen andMichael Bloomberg to sign the $600 billion Giving Pledge, Huntsman said he was ashamed to note that less than 2 percent of the Forbes 400 richest Americans joined them.

The Giving Pledge obligates signers to give away at least half of their fortunes. Huntsman had one complaint:

“The only thing wrong with this,” he told one group, “is that it’s the wrong formula. It should be 80 percent. Why not? If a family has $5 billion, why should it only give away $2.5 billion? Surely it wouldn’t require the remaining $2.5 billion to live a full and productive life. We can’t take it with us, but we can direct it toward helping others in significant ways.”

Jon Huntsman has given and raised more than $1.4 billion dollars for cancer. We, the Huntsman Team, were honored to represent Huntsman Cancer Institute in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Qasim Al Qassabi, Dr. Sultan T. Al Sedairy, and Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya, the distinguished physician-scientist, with the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya with the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz when she received a prestigious award “First Rank King Abdulaziz Medal” as the first Saudi female pioneering initiatives in cancer.

Next Thursday we will learn more about Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya. And several other fabulous young women making a difference in the Kingdom.

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