Q & A with Dr Mercy Isichei
Q: Where were you born? A: I was born in Borno state, Northern Nigeria.
Q: What was your primary and secondary education like?
A: In went to public school in Nigeria for both primary and secondary education.
Q: Where did you go to medical school and why did you want to become a doctor and then a surgeon?
A: I went to University of Maiduguri college of Medical sciences. Towards the end of secondary school, I wanted to study aviation engineering but found I didn’t take all the subjects required at secondary school level. I thought I should study medicine to help save life and am glad that I didn’t get to do my first choice. Sometimes God has a way of directing us to the area He wants without us recognizing it. During my housemanship year, surgery rotation gave me the greatest satisfaction when I see a patient recovered after a successful surgery so I decided to be a surgeon. I had met Chris my husband before I decided to become a surgeon and he became my greatest encouragement. He told me never to give up after I had attempted and failed. He found out I didn’t have the right study materials and he made sure he got them for me. I wrote and passed the exam a week before our wedding. Q: What church did you attend and how important was Christ in your upbringing?
A: I attended a Baptist church. My father was a teacher and a preacher/missionary. I grew up in the church but grew to know Christ more and accepted Him in school. I was a back vocalist with a gospel band during my med school years, that drew me even closer to the Lord.
Q: How has your medical career developed through the years? Is your focus different now than it was early in your career?
A: Yes, my focus is different. At the start of med school I thought when I graduated I will be able to solve all the health problems I was seeing around me but I quickly found out it was an impossible task. I wanted to help people and at some point I began to feel helpless because of the magnitude of the problem. When I married Chris, I was able to get more focused with helping the less privileged including the HIV infected. During my residency training in general surgery, I saw there was serious need for surgical oncology doctors. Breast cancer cases were becoming frequent, it was also like a death sentence. It is still the greatest cause of female cancer related deaths in our setting. I felt a strong desire to help save cancer patients too. The HIV infected are also at a very higher risk of developing cancer and those we were managing in our facility began to present with HIV related cancer. I was actively involved in their management. I started getting trainings in oncology research and still trying to gain more skill especially in breast cancer management.
Q: How have you seen Faith Alive advance over the years and what is one of your earliest memories of it?
A: Faith Alive started as a counseling center with table and few chairs, now it a hospital where we take care of persons with various ailments. Medical, surgical, OBGYN, ophthalmologist, dental, psychiatric and pediatric cases are managed. Early memories were when we moved things from our home to the hospital when there was a need because we couldn’t afford to buy them for the facility. We could not afford staff so we relied on volunteers and gave them stipend from our own salaries which we received from our work with the government. God brought us help through willing hearts, starting locally then to the US, Canada, UK etc.
Q: What is your most proud achievement, professionally and personally?
A: Professionally I have had a steady progress in my career in academics and in medicine. Personally, I thank God for blessing me with a wonderful family both immediate and extended, friends and being a part of Faith Alive where I see God at work in the lives of people every day. I am happy, grateful and proud to be a part this.
Q: At least a few of your children are pursuing medicine. What advice have you given them about their choice?
A: That they should know it is a privilege that God gave them to take care of His wonderful creation. They should put God first in all they do and all other things shall be added unto them.
Q: What is your best advice to anyone trying to break into a career that is dominated by men?
A: If you feel lead to pursue such a career after you have prayed, I would say go for it with all your might. Don’t see yourself as different just be focused and work hard without expecting special treatment.
Q: Who is your hero?
A: My hero is a Nigerian female surgeon who was my surgery teacher. She received her degree but came back after practicing in Germany for some years to teach Nigerians.
Q: What words do you live by?
A: Each day am faced with difficulties, I tell myself “This one too will pass because my God is in control”.
Q: Where do YOU envision Faith Alive in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
A: I envision a Faith Alive medical institute for treatment, learning, teaching and research that is affordable to all by God’s special grace. Q: Tell me a favorite story about a patient that you attended that also resulted in you being changed in some way.
A: There are so many stories that have touched my life and given me encouragement to continue despite all odds. I had the privilege of managing a 21-year-old college student who was referred to Faith Alive on account of a recurrent breast lump. I wondered why she wasn’t referred to a bigger center so I asked her. She said told her about Faith Alive and she felt that was the place to go to. The lump had grown to more than twice the size of the normal breast but not fixed which is not uncommon in Phyllodes tumor of the breast. She didn’t have any tissue diagnosis in her three previous surgeries because they hospital she was attending in her village didn’t have the facilities and the doctor felt it was benign. Biopsy prior to surgery showed malignant phyllodes tumor of the breast so we contacted and booked for a radiotherapy spot planned to be about 4 weeks after her surgery. Surgery was good, she recovered and healed fast then we sent her to follow up on her radiotherapy 2 weeks before her due date. The week of radiotherapy the machine broke down, it was repaired two weeks later so she was rebooked. Then there was a strike, the hospital was closed for about three months. When she eventually got a spot, the tumor had recurred and she was sent back for re-excision. Meanwhile she had chemotherapy but it wasn’t effective. We re-excised the tumor but by this time chest X-ray showed tumor deposits in her lungs. We encouraged her, prayed with her, called and support her as much as we could but I felt so helpless. I could not fast track anything nor could I change the fact that this girl could have been diagnosed earlier or get radiotherapy as planned which might prolong the time to recurrence. She eventually went for the radiotherapy but died three days into the session. She left me a message sent through a letter by her father. She believed God directed her to Faith Alive and she felt we were like a family to her not just care givers. She encouraged us to continue and never give up. She was so young but was strong, resilient, holding unto God till the end. I still vividly recall that face! That makes me to search for knowledge and to hope that one day Faith Alive will have all that is required to at least contain a disease to prolong life. I had a similar case with an older woman who has an intermediate disease and will require bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. She is trying to raise funds to go to the UK where a surgeon is willing to do the surgery for her. She has had 6 surgeries, the last two was performed by us at Faith Alive when she came to us. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree student in University of Jos but she said to me “Auntie am faced with so much uncertainties that it so hard to concentrate but am holding unto God for help”.
Q: How encouraging were your parents and family in your pursuit of a medical career?
A: They were very supportive and made sure they provided for my needs despite the many other children they had to care for. They had biological and adopted children that they took in to help train. They also prayed for us all the time. Q: Tell us about your continuing education of acquiring more degrees and knowledge.
A: The drive is that with continuing medical education I can give our patients better care and help reduce the burden of disease. Am also interested in research because there is so much we don’t know about the peculiarities of the patients we are managing. Some of the health problems can be solved through research locally.