Distinguished Resident Alumna on a mission to improve pediatric care in the developing world
When she was a resident and a postgraduate in her native Pakistan more than three decades ago, Aziza Shad, M.D., was struck by the fact that no children in her country were surviving pediatric cancer while the U.S. survival rate was 70 percent. So she vowed to come to America in order to eventually bring life-saving medical therapies back to Pakistan and the developing world.
Life and love, in the form of her husband Tahir Shad, intervened, though, so she remained in this country with her husband, now a professor of political science and international studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.
Yet she has not abandoned her original commitment. Since completing her pediatric residency at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in 1989, Shad has become a world-renowned expert in pediatric cancer research and treatment. Today, as the director of Medstar Georgetown University Hospital's Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, Shad is using her expertise to help establish programs, some of which she has pioneered at Georgetown, in developing nations around the world—including Pakistan.
"It doesn't matter where a child lives, what their religion is or the color of their skin," she says. "If the survival rate for pediatric cancer in the United States is now more than 80 percent, then surely the survival rate in developing countries should be more than 20 percent."
Shad stands out among the Department of Pediatrics' nearly 500 residents since 1972. Cheston M. Berlin, Jr., M.D., says, "Aziza has certainly been one of our top residents—both in terms of the promise she showed and her career since then. I've always told her that she is a jewel of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and that she is only on loan to all of these other institutions throughout the world."
The recipient of the Department of Pediatrics' first Distinguished Resident Alumni Award in 2006 and the 2007 Alumni Fellow Award from the Pennsylvania State University Alumni Association, Shad particularly credits Berlin, John Neely, M.D., Steven Wassner, M.D., and Mark Widome, M.D. for positively influencing her life. She says, "I learned there is no such thing as not having time for your patients, that compassion goes a long way in making a patient better and that you treat the whole family, not just the child."
The faculty's dedication to teaching, the excellent care they provided, their humanistic approach to dealing with patients and their families and their genuine personal interest in both her and her family all impressed Shad. Some of her professors even checked in on her mother and mother-in-law, who were caring for the first two of Shad's three children while she was engaged in her residency and her husband completed graduate school in Pittsburgh.
After her residency, she entered a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, where she also worked with children with HIV, and 18 years ago joined Georgetown. In 2003 Shad, who also directs the hospital's Leukemia Lymphoma Program, became director of its multi-disciplinary Pediatric Cancer Survivorship Program; her cancer survivors' guidebook, The Next Step: Crossing the Bridge to Survivorship, was published five years later.
"You can't just treat your patients and then say goodbye," explains Shad. "We have the responsibility to follow them for the rest of their lives for the possible long-term side effects of their treatment, which can include learning disabilities, obesity, long-term heart damage, growth problems, infertility and important psychosocial problems, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome."
At Georgetown she also launched a pediatric palliative care program and, recently, a first-of-its-kind pediatric cancer nutrition program, which resulted in last year's publication of the popular book, Happily Hungry: Smart Recipes for Kids with Cancer.
Meanwhile, as president of the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR) USA, Shad has been instrumental in helping to build capacity in pediatric oncology in many developing countries by partnering with local governments, hospitals, and NGOs to establish pediatric oncology units and palliative care and survivorship programs and train doctors and nurses in diagnosis and treatment. Her latest and largest challenge: the INCTR/Aslan Project to improve pediatric oncology in Ethiopia. "The true love of my life is still to improve the care of children in developing countries," she says.
Acknowledging the difficulty of her discipline, she adds, "You build a close relationship with the child and family once you give them a diagnosis of cancer. You walk with them through treatment, and then to see them survive, attend their graduations and weddings, and see them become something in life is very gratifying. So many of them choose pediatric oncology as either doctors or nurses." Shad is the Amey Distinguished Professor of Neuro-Oncology and Childhood Cancer— a professorship endowed by the parents of Kara Amey, a 10-year-old she successfully treated.
One of five children—four doctors and one psychologist—Shad credits her parents for teaching her the importance of caring for those who are less fortunate. Her middle son Zaamin, 27, has also inspired her. He has developmental delay, yet works part time and loves taking college courses.
"He's my inspiration for everything I do," she says. "If he can fight all the odds and accomplish what he puts his mind to in spite of his disabilities, trying to fight cancer in a developing country should not be that big of a hurdle for me."