KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
Dr Safeeya Mohammed has spent the past decade on a mission to improve not just the health but also the wellness and well-being of the national community. From her many roles as a mum, medical doctor, philanthropist, and diplomat; presentations at United Nations to her recent travels to Goa, India, she has sought to understand the causes of the increasing threat of lifestyle diseases and to map a way forward for her family, community and country to pursue collaboratively with noteworthy global institutions. Her latest endeavours will bring a comprehensive viewpoint to our situation in the Caribbean and could present a tipping point for our people towards a better quality of life.
“My hope is to empower and impact persons so that we can change and transform their lives. My experiences have allowed me to conclude, we are a reactive society and not a proactive one; and lifestyle management is perhaps the single most effective therapy in medicine, yet largely ignored because it requires more effort on the part of the individual.”
A lesson the doctors shared, “learnt the hard way, in facing my own health deliberations.”
However, this big-picture journey started when she was a teenager. “My parents were both very active in the community, and I joined them at a monthly clinic held at our mosque. Dr Mohammed, who recently celebrated her 40th birthday, recalls being just 17 years of age at the time and remembers one elderly woman in particular who shaped her future journey. “This patient had come in with a diascan value of over 400 and I was not yet a doctor so I sat with her taking her basic information and listening to her struggles, her life stressors, and her complaints with diabetes. I shared the little advice I knew and she went on to see the doctor. Every month she attended the clinic, she came to me and I shared an attentive ear. Sometime later, she came back, and she was excited to see me, repeating, ‘Doc, Doc! I’m getting better!” At that point, the feeling of helping someone led me to want to help others,” she added. Though she was not yet a medical doctor, that experience charted the way forward for her to pursue that exact course of study.
With a scholarship to her name to read for her degree at the University of the West Indies, the former St Augustine Girls’ High School graduate would face the most unexpected challenge in her Fourth Year. “My brother passed away while I was on call as student at Port-of-Spain General Hospital. “We knew that there was a bad car accident coming into the Casualty, but at the time I didn’t know it was him,” she recalled. “The experience of not being able to help him made me want to quit my studies altogether, but I knew I couldn’t on my scholarship. Later on, that feeling of tragedy motivated me to want to continue, so that others wouldn’t have to experience the pain I felt that day, and continue to feel.”
And continue she did. Dr Mohammed would not only go on to become acting registrar at the Neo-National Intensive Care Unit at San Fernando General, but would usher in many progressive programmes and forward-thinking initiatives while there. “There was little in the way of compassionate care in the public health system at the time, so we created a support structure for families through counselling at the hospital in a new space that suited it. Along with the then consultant and two parents of premature babies, SOS Babies was created,” the doctor noted. It was inspired by her interaction with US organisations like March of Dimes and Bliss in the UK. It was also around this time in 2009, that Dr Mohammed was selected, based on her continued work in the community and health spaces, to be one of this country’s youngest diplomats in the US International Visitor Leadership Programme. Of this she noted, “That experience meeting congressmen and women, high-level business persons and very active NGO’s, helped to further align my journey with the idea that we could bring these perspectives to our country through governmental, civic and community organisations.”
Dr Mohammed eventually resigned her position in the public health system when complications arose during her pregnancy. During this new journey of motherhood, she embraced mindfulness and meditation, bringing calm to thoughts of the risks faced and developed a keen connection to yoga, one she shares to this day with her son, Musa. On return to the work world, she focused more on experiential learning and consulting engagements in the health and wellness sphere, leading her to open her own company to achieve these outcomes. “SISU Global Wellness has one goal: to transform lives purposefully and intentionally. The vision is to work with corporate entities to help them take wellness to another level in the place where most of us spend our lives – at work. SISU is a Finnish word that has no direct translation into English but essentially translates as determination, guts, perseverance and the capacity to endure significant hardships,” she detailed. It’s a life philosophy dating back to the 16th century when the ‘gut’ was seen as the seat of emotions and spirit and today we are seeing modern medicine aligning to the notion that wellness, and likewise disease is largely affected by the health of the gut and the microbiome. But the intention of SISU is a holistic one – beyond health and to the path of wellness, happiness and a work-life blend, not balance. Too many people chase a balance, but in our hyper-connected and always-on world, it’s far better to seek a work-life blend than a balance.”
Mohammed’s continued work includes her recent travels to India to attend an international yoga conference held as a guest of the Indian Government’s Ministry of AYUSH, and last March to the United Nations as team lead, presenting at the Commission on the Status of Women – taking TT forward to the international diplomatic arena once more. These and other roles including her current ones as chair to the Advisory Board at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at The University of the West Indies, leadership coach with John Maxwell and her past roles as project manager for the Wellness Council of America’s (WELCOA), medical consultant to the Children’s Authority, ambassador for Habitat for Humanity for three years were recently noticed by Sean Gardner, Forbes No 1 Social Media Influence, who named Mohammed as one of the world’s Truly Inspiring Women. She was also named by the University of the West Indies as one of 50 Distinguished Alumni at their 50th anniversary in 2011 – the youngest female medical doctor on the list.
This year, her goal is self-described as ‘extraordinaire’, calling on companies and national media to play an important role in creating a better country too. “The media has the power to bring wellness into focus for the nation. Wellness is directly dependent on the environment around us and media has the responsibility to share positive messages which can create positive impacts on people’s lives.” That initiative, the Wellness, Innovation, Technology and Sustainability Summit + Ecosystem will be held in April this year and continue onwards through her company.
"Working in ICU for years I’ve seen patients who were expected to die, miraculously recover. Working in wellness I’ve seen people whom I expect to live long lives perish. We wake up every day with no guarantee and just that perspective underscores the fragility of our lives. It behoves us to treat our body, mind and spirit with the highest regard and to interact with everyone around us as though seeing them for the very last time. As a medical doctor, we take the Hippocratic oath, so it’s worth remembering a powerful quote from Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine who advised us that the the greatest medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it.”