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RIYADH: The driving force behind innovation in healthcare, Dr. Andrew Padmos built and led the Hematology and Oncology Clinical Program at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, establishing the first bone marrow transplant program in the Middle East during his 15-year tenure in the Kingdom. which started in 1978.

“We left Canada in September of that year (1978) with two little boys, aged 2 and 4, and then we came to Riyadh for a year or two. We found it to be a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. We stayed for 15 years,” Padmos, a doctor and hematologist, told Arab News.

“As a family, we felt very welcome. We were treated very well, not only in the hospital but in the community. And obviously we felt safe. Our children were in kindergarten at the time. Later, they attended international schools,” he said.

Padmos and his wife had a third son in Saudi Arabia. Their children attended a British school in Riyadh and later an American school.

Speaking about his professional career in medicine, he described the work he did at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center as “exciting”.

“I was the only hematologist … in the hospital. In fact, I think I was the only hematologist in the Kingdom. Very quickly I became very busy with patients with leukemia, lymphomas and other disorders,” he said. “I think we have developed sophisticated health services.

“At King Faisal Specialist, I was fortunate that we were not limited in our vision or resources, so we were able to accept patients with (more) advanced drugs, advanced treatments available (than) elsewhere in the world. And all the time we were in contact with other centers of advanced medicine,” he recalls.

In 1982, Padmos set an important milestone in the health sector of the Kingdom. He approached the head of King Faisal Hospital and presented the idea of ​​performing life-saving bone marrow transplants in the Kingdom instead of sending patients abroad.

“I pointed out that we send patients to the US and the UK for bone marrow transplants. And the head of the hospital said, ‘If we can do it here, please go ahead and fix it.’ And nine months later we did the first bone marrow transplant, and that would be earlier than in many countries around the world,” said Padmos.

“In 1983, the first transplant was performed. And now at King Faisal Specialist they make more than 100 of them a year,” he added.

Speaking about the Kingdom’s early ambitions to be a driver of healthcare development, Padmos said: “The speed of development, the enthusiasm for the development and advancement of medical technology has always been with us. And fortunately, the resources were available to make that happen.”

When asked what was the most important aspect of his career in the Kingdom, he said: “Patients are probably the most important thing in my career, working with so many young, old and worthy patients. They were so gracious… They had a religious and cultural acceptance of the medical situation.”

He also praised the dedicated efforts of the nurses he worked with during his tenure, who came from all over the world.

Reflecting on the accomplishments and milestones he has helped achieve in healthcare, Padmos humbly added, “I was fortunate to be in the right place and with the right leaders.”

As part of its efforts to improve the Saudi healthcare sector for future generations, Padmos has helped facilitate a training program for Saudi students to learn from leading experts in hematology and oncology in Canada.

After helping to establish the program, 1,000 Saudi doctors are now undergoing advanced postgraduate training in Canada.

“This is a program that has been going on for 40 years, many, perhaps even most, of the advanced positions in the Kingdom are held by Saudi doctors who trained in Canada. I was very happy and fortunate to be at the beginning of this process,” said Padmos.

The doctor praised the King Abdullah scholarship program, which he said has sent 600,000 young Saudis “all over the world.”

He added: “(It’s) probably one of the most, impressive, most massive social engineering and transformation projects the world has ever seen, in (in terms of) devoting so much effort and so much resources to … training young people outside the country.”

Padmos left the kingdom in 1993 to become head of the cancer center and program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he worked for five years.

During this time frame, he visited the Kingdom several times to meet with patients who wanted him to return and reconnect.

“In 2006, I joined the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada as executive director, and the first people who knocked on the door were from the Saudi Cultural Bureau to try to increase the number of Saudi medical trainees in Canada,” he recalled. .

During that time, Padmos said there will be more capacity to send Canadian educators to Saudi Arabia to work with local hospitals.

“We have started cooperation and accreditation. And now Saudi doctors can train in Saudi Arabia in several postgraduate programs,” he said.

“We have created a bridge, a very long bridge, from Canada to Saudi Arabia based on the same standards for specialty certification of physicians in many disciplines. And this program continues and grows year after year.”

Speaking to the KSA-Canada Education Forum in Riyadh, Padmos highlighted the many changes he has witnessed since returning to the Kingdom in 2024.

“The country … has completely modernized and developed more,” he said. “When I arrived and we moved into our townhouse at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, we were on the edge of the city. There was nothing but desert and a few research blocks across that and to the airport — 25 km of nothing.

“Sure, it’s completely built. The population is large. Such dramatic changes there, dramatic changes in the ability, confidence and enthusiasm of young people (who) still respect … their teachers. So, those strong cultural roots are still evident, but there is a modern twist. More women are now advancing their careers outside the home, in medicine and other specialties.”

Padmos is currently working to connect Saudi and Canadian nurse training institutions.

“There has been a social transformation, a commitment to education, excellence and true entrepreneurship, which I think is so gratifying, so impressive. And I hope we can bring many more Canadians here to see and participate in this development process. I think it strengthens everything we do in Canada,” he said.

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