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Researchers Under the Scope

Feb 11, 2024

Haissam Haddad inadvertently horrified his family when he signed up for engineering courses in his first year of university.

The teenager returned the next day to change his major to medicine -- a move he's glad he made.

Dr. Haddad practiced family medicine in Syria for three years, then arrived in Canada in 1986 to visit his wife's family, who urged him to stay.

Haddad faced an uphill battle when he investigated the possibility of becoming a Canadian doctor. One colleague even told him he’d be better off opening a Syrian grocery store.

“This gave me a lot of energy to prove him wrong,” said Haddad.

His early years in Canada were characterized by relentless perseverance, as Haddad confronted the arduous process of certification and integration into the medical system. He focused on learning English every weekday, picking up back-to-back twelve-hour shifts at a Halifax laundromat every weekend, to support his family.

“The first day it took me, like, almost 16 hours to read one page,” Haddad said. “I had no option to fail.”

After three years of English lessons and intensive studying, Dr. Sam Haddad earned a passing score on Canada’s medical licensing exam.

In this episode, Dr. Haddad recounts pivotal moments that steered him towards cardiology, including formative experiences in cardiac surgery during his residency at Dalhousie, which took place during the HIV epidemic.

“I’ve always liked the heart,” said Haddad. "I decided to do cardiology because it has less blood and less risk.”

Haddad’s dedication to improving patient outcomes through research soon became evident, as he tackled clinical gaps and treatment efficacy in heart failure management and heart transplant protocols.

“Almost on a weekly basis, you have a patient who did not respond to the usual treatment,” said Haddad. “This is the research question. How come this patient is not getting better?”

As his expertise grew, Haddad became one of only two Canadian cardiologists who were part of the National Institutes of Health Heart Failure Network. His patients took part in clinical trials that led to significant advancements. 

“A lot of our patients didn't have private insurance,” Haddad said. “We can do a lot of work to help patients who are not able to buy their own medication."

Haddad led the cardiac transplant and heart failure programs at the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute, exponentially increasing the number of transplants performed. At the same time, he said at cardiovascular medicine was making revolutionary strides with artificial hearts and improved anti-rejection medications.

When he began, half of heart failure patients died within a year. Now, over 90 per cent survive.

After moving to Saskatoon to become Saskatchewan’s Provincial Head of Medicine in 2016, Haddad continued his clinical practice, taking on leadership roles in medical education and research.

Instrumental in recruiting almost half of the specialists practicing in Saskatchewan today, Haddad also established the University of Saskatchewan Cardiovascular Research Group, fostering a collaborative environment for innovative research initiatives.

Last year, Dr. Haddad was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada..

“Nothing comes easy,” said Haddad. “You have to work hard. You have to fail multiple times before you're successful.”