Dr. Claire Karekezi
I was born on 4th July, 1982 in Butare, Southern Rwanda but I grew up in the capital city Kigali
A dynamic kid loving to fix all broken things at home, always curious
From my younger age I knew I wanted to either be a doctor, a pilot or an astronaut, so when I started high school, I told my parents that I wished to pursue STEM related fields at that period I wasn’t completely sure which way I would choose to go. When I finished high school and had to choose a university option, it was at that time clear I wanted to become a medical doctor.
During my 5th year of medical school I had the opportunity to do an exchange program as a visiting medical student in Sweden and to be in a department of Neurosurgery at the Linkoping Teaching Hospital for four weeks. I was directly mentored by Professor Jan Hillman, Chairman of the department.
I had planned to be in the department of Radiology, but during that summer period most departments did not receive interns. Professor Hillman kindly accepted me in the neurosurgery department. When I arrived, He was on holidays. I roamed around to get used to the new environment. When he got back, Prof. Hillman asked me “Are you the student from Rwanda?” I said “yes”. “Have you been in the operating room (OR)?” “Not yet”, I replied. “Come with me” he said.
For the first time, I discovered the beauty of the brain attending numerous surgeries performed by him in person and he let me scrub next to him. This experience became an enormous inspiration that shaped my interest to Neurosurgery.
I specialize in Neurosurgery with a fellowship training in Neurooncology and Skull Base Surgery. Unlike the other organs, the human brain is complex, the specialty itself is complex, I feel challenged everyday to improve and to keep learning. Helping my patients is the most important thing in my daily practice. It is very heartwarming seeing a healthy patient walking away knowing that you have contributed to treating him/her.
On the night of April 7th 2018, I was on a nightshift at Toronto Western Hospital one of the big neurosurgical hospitals in Toronto; I was called to the emergency room for a neurosurgical consultation. There, I met a lovely 76 years old gentleman originating from Egypt, living in Canada since many years with his two daughters.
He had spent many days struggling with severe legs instability and back pain. He had reached a point of despair and That’s what brought him to the Emergency room that night; I was anxious when I entered the room to examine him. I started talking to him, and getting his history; I could see on his face that he needed to understand why he was suffering; more importantly to know that he would be ok. He had seen different doctors but that night he came because he had started losing sensation from the waist down.
As I examined him, I knew that missing his diagnosis that night, would be a disaster and that If he doesn’t get proper treatment, on time; the risks were to be permanently paralyzed and lose the ability to walk again. From my examination findings I could tell without hesitation that he was suffering from a spinal cord compression but an MRI is always needed to explore the possible causes. Spinal Cord Compression happens when the cord is compressed by any bone fragments from a fracture, a tumor, a compressing disc or other lesions, it is considered as a medical emergency that requires swift diagnosis and urgent treatment to avoid potential irreversible damage to the spinal cord. His previous MRI was incomplete, I insisted on having a complete one on the suspected level. This confirmed a compression at that level. He needed an urgent surgery that was performed successfully by our spine team the next morning.
Offering him the opportunity to go on with his life again and spend quality time with his daughters on his feet, was more important than who I was, where I come from or how I got there.
My mom: not only has she raised us, but she’s also been my supporter, motivator during every stage of my life journey, looked after me and still is even if am an adult. Her love, dedication taught me discipline and same dedication to my field and patients.
My big Sister Christelle Karekezi
Great experience, got to meet the ladies several times but also impressed by different projects and mentorship programs. It’s a wonderful honor being part of the association.
Teaching and helping more women neurosurgeons to go as far possible
I love traveling, discovering new places, but also spending time with friends and family, I love watching and playing basketball, reading and listening to music
To never feel frightened in embracing any surgical career, yes there are challenges but things have evolved and we have more role models and mentors. I tell them to get their seats at the main table.