Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Lebanon: a thumbprint in medicine

Jonathan Mina
Beirut, Lebanon

Fig 1. Dr. Debakey, holding the MicroMed-DeBakey VAD (ventricular assist device) with one of his heart transplant patients, David Saucier, a NASA Johnson Space Center engineer. Photo by NASA. July 29, 2013. Via Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Lebanon is a country that has long developed and exported physicians and other leaders in healthcare for the world. The contribution of Lebanese physicians to medicine include the discovery of diseases and treatments, the advancement of medical practice, and the invention of new techniques.

Crigler-Najjar syndrome was discovered by a Lebanese pediatrician who graduated from the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1935. Victor Assad Najjar was born on April 15, 1914 in Beirut. After graduating from AUB, he trained in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital and later become chairman of the microbiology department at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In 1952 he and his colleague Dr. John Crigler reported seven cases of infants from three different families who developed intractable non-hemolytic jaundice during their first week of life. Six of these infants died of encephalopathy by the age of fifteen months. This led to the first description of Crigler-Najjar syndrome, a life-threatening disease in children that affects the liver.1

Daniel Amen was born to a Lebanese immigrant family in 1954. Dr. Amen received his undergraduate education at the University of Maryland, his medical degree at Oral Roberts University, trained in psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and did an independent fellowship in nuclear brain imaging at the Institute for Nuclear Medical Education.2 Dr. Amen has hosted nine public television shows and authored eighty professional articles and more than thirty books, including nine New York Times bestsellers. He is the founder of Amen Clinics, which applies brain imaging science to the study of psychiatric and neurological conditions.3

Danny Thomas was a well-known singer, comedian, actor, and producer who was born as Amos Kairouz in 1912 in Michigan to Lebanese immigrant parents. From his humble beginnings, he made a vow to St. Jude that he would build a shrine for him if he became rich.4 Thomas established St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on February 4, 1962, which is today one of the largest pediatric cancer hospitals in the world. It provides free care to more than 8,600 patients each year and has a survival rate of 94% for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Now with more than twenty core facilities, an elevated research investment, and top quality of care, the overall survival rate for childhood cancers has risen from 20% to 80% in the US.5 Danny Thomas received the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of his work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.6

A portrait of Gibran Khalil Gibran. Via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Michael DeBakey was born to Lebanese immigrant parents in Louisiana in 1908. His contributions to heart surgery were immense and revolutionary. Dr. DeBakey was a leading figure in the development of the artificial heart and was among the first surgeons to perform coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). He was the first to do a successful carotid endarterectomy and the first to use an external heart pump successfully.7 He devised the “roller pump,” developed the Dacron plastic-tubing technique, corrected aortic aneurysms using frozen blood vessels, and innovated the implantation of the ventricular assist device (VAD).8 In 2006, he suffered a dissecting aneurysm. The surgeons he trained took charge of his operation using the techniques he developed throughout his years of service.9 Dr. DeBakey was a professor of surgery and chairman of the surgery department at Baylor College of Medicine before he served as its president (1969-1979) and chancellor (1979-1996). In recognition of his work, Dr. DeBakey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, the National Medal of Science in 1987, and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2008.10

“You have Lebanon and its people. I have Lebanon and its people.” These are the words of another giant from Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran. Through his eyes, we see a country that despite the obstacles it faces and the powers that try to put it down, leaves its thumbprint on the world through its ambassadors of knowledge, culture, heritage, skills, expertise, leadership, intelligence, innovation, motivation, technology, love, compassion, and wisdom.


  1. Crigler-Najjar Syndrome — American Liver Foundation. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/crigler-najjar-syndrome/
  2. Daniel G. Amen, MD. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/daniel-g-amen
  3. About Us | Amen Clinics. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.amenclinics.com/about-us/
  4. Meet The Lebanese-American Man Who Gave Hope To Children With Cancer. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.the961.com/danny-thomas-st-jude-hospital/
  5. How St. Jude began – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.stjude.org/about-st-jude/history/how-we-began.html
  6. Danny Thomas. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.arabamerica.com/arabamericans/danny-thomas-4/
  7. Michael DeBakey | American surgeon | Britannica. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-DeBakey
  8. Legacy of Excellence. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.bcm.edu/about-us/our-campus/debakey-museum/legacy-of-excellence
  9. Biographical Overview | Michael E. DeBakey – Profiles in Science. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/spotlight/fj/feature/biographical
  10. Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and Dr. Denton A. Cooley – Heart Surgeons – The New York Times. Accessed September 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/27/health/27docs.html

JONATHAN MINA, MD, graduated from the Lebanese American University (LAU) with a B.S. in Biology in 2017. Dr. Mina continued to pursue medicine at the Lebanese American University School of Medicine and graduated with a Medical Doctorate degree in 2021. Dr. Mina is working at the Lebanese American University Medical Center Rizk Hospital as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the infectious disease department in 2021-2022. Dr. Mina is currently working on several cross-sectional studies, cohort studies, and clinical trials concerning COVID-19, bacteremia, diarrhea, and sinusitis.

Second prize winner of the Glory of Lebanon Contest, in collaboration with the Lebanese American University Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine

Fall 2021



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