In the Master's Hands
Silver Cross surgeon credits God for his healing touch
The Herald News
Date: Sunday, March 25, 2001
Source: By Denise M. Baran-Unland

Ramsis Ghaly, a neurosurgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, sports an impressive resume.

He is board certified in three specialties (neurological surgery, anesthesiology and pain management), affiliated with four hospitals, a member of 16 medical societies, a presenter at many seminars and a conductor of pioneer research in neurophysiology.

For many of his patients, Ghaly is the quintessential silver lining in a life clouded over with pain and despair. Often he is their last thin thread of hope for a miracle.

Nevertheless, the 43-year-old La Grange resident does not rest on his laurels; he humbly gives the credit to another—the God who he worships as a member of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church.

"Medicine is a gift; it is God’s gift to us," said Ghaly. "When Christ did his miracles for the people, curing them and raising them from the dead, the people said in Luke 7:16, ‘God has visited his people.’"

As Ghaly’s parents raised their eight children in Cairo, Egypt, they had only two values they wished to impress upon their children: to serve God in the Christian faith and to acquire a good education. The young Ghaly yearned with his entire being, "with an intense desire," to study medicine, as well as to become "a good Christian on the inside, not just on the outside."

"When I was growing up I loved to read; I loved to study," said Ghaly. "If, as a human being, you have a good strong faith and, at the same time, do your part as a human being…learn and be educated…then God can use this combination as he sees best. You have a physician who is able to do more for his patients.

Ghaly attended medical school at Ain Shams University, School of Medicine, in Cairo, Egypt, and graduated with honors in 1981. He completed his internship at the university’s hospital and was aghast at the suffering. "I saw a lot of patients in comas or with brain hemorrhages," said Ghaly, "Nobody knew what to do; nobody wanted to know what to do. They let patients die."

After first working summers in England and saving his money, Ghaly came to the United States in 1984 as a "naïve Egyptian doctor" who initially could not find a hospital willing to accept him. "I didn’t have big names behind me, nor would I say I graduated from the best school, or that Dr. So and So knows me. Every time I passed a hospital, I wanted to be part of it."

Eventually, Ghaly found a home at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, where he found himself being steered into neuroanesthesiology. "I spent time on call with neurosurgery, on call with neuroanesthesiology, and on my off days, doing research," said Ghaly.

Unwavering concentration

Ghaly differed from his colleagues in that he did not view medicine as a profession, but as his vocation. Studying was not the cornerstone of Ghaly’s determination; prayer and fasting were.

"This ability to heal people, to take suffering from them, should require higher powers to help us," he said. "This is my prayer: that any patient who comes to me, I can help."

Larry Johnson, executive director of the Silver Cross Foundation, recently had the opportunity to watch Ghaly in action. (Ghaly has been practicing at Silver Cross the last six years.) He marveled at the doctor’s unwavering concentration over many hours without a break.

"I watched him for 2 1/2 hours in a surgery that must have gone from 8 in the morning until 6 at night," said Johnson. "I asked him, ‘How can you work so intently, so focused, for such a long period of time?’" Ghaly’s response" "Sixteen years of training and prayer and meditation."

A whole person now

Michelle Tomczak, 47, of Richton Park truly believes she would be dead now if Ghaly had not intervened. A minor auto accident in the early 1990s resulted in Tomczak later undergoing five spinal surgeries. Eventually, Tomczak’s spine collapsed and she was no longer able to support her head. A feeding tube provided nourishment to her then 80-pound frame.

Tomczak’s doctor referred her to Ghaly, who advised her that another surgery was her only option. It was an option Tomczak did not want to hear. "I was petrified of another surgery," said Tomczak. She had the surgery nearly a year ago, on April 25.

"I went into surgery at 6:30 a.m. and came out at 2:30 a.m. the next day," she said. "Dr. Ghaly found that I had a horrendous infection in my spine and that my esophagus had grown through the plate that had been put in. He told my family straight up that there was very little chance I would live."

Today, Tomczak is maintaining a weight of 134 pounds, has moved from intravenous antibiotics to oral medication, and is walking on her own, albeit with a cane.

She feels like a whole person now, and it is not simply because her surgery was successful.

"Dr. Ghaly is like God to me; he’s made my faith stronger," said Tomczak. "He is the most dedicated doctor. When I was admitted to the hospital, he was by my side the whole time. He called me at home…listening to my voice…to see how I was doing.

"Dr. Ghaly keeps telling me that I have a new life, and I do," added Tomczak. "It’s a different life, one that is not riddled with intolerable pain. Then, all I could do was sit and cry and pray for somebody to help me."

However, Ghaly told Tomczak he himself was not the answer to her prayer. "He says that God just works through his hands."

Living pain-free

While Gail Tarman, 45, of Wilmington, was not as ill as Tomczak, she, too, marveled at Ghaly’s sincere approach to his patients, adding what Tarman calls, "a touch of love."

Suffering from severe leg pain, Ghaly discovered that the nerves in Tarman’s right leg had been rerouted away from her spine. "I couldn’t stand for more than one minute," she recalled. The surgery that Ghaly performed on Tarman in September has left her pain-free. "He’s an awesome individual," said Tarman. "He’s pretty close to that picture of God I have on my wall. Dr. Ghaly saw me at least three times a day when I was in the hospital. The nurses told me he had called the station seven times to see how I was doing.

"He ordered a nurse to come here a couple times a week. I didn’t have to take care of anything. He works so closely with his staff that they’re on top of everything. They don’t forget a thing!"

Two sides of Ghaly

Sarah Schmeckpeper, 26, has been Ghaly’s medical assistant for over a year and has found him to be completely unlike any other health professional she has ever met.

"He goes the extra mile with his patients," said Schmeckpeper. "He calls them at home, he sits with them, he counsels them about what’s going to happen. I don’t think he ever sleeps; he’s so 100 percent dedicated to his work. He just always says that God is with him."

"I think that he has made me a better person; I really do," Schmeckpeper added. Some people see him as very stern, very forceful, but he’s a very gentle, caring person. Some of the other nurses never see this side of him. He’s so busy, yet at 7:30 at night he’s going over to the hospital to see every patient.

Death left up to God

Unless a medical emergency prevails, Ghaly attends a three-hour church service each Sunday at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge.

Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, is, for Ghaly, an example of the model physician. In that story, a foreigner extended himself to a stranger, using the resources of the day that were available, just as every doctor does.

"And Jesus said, ‘Go and do likewise,’" said Ghaly.

My day begins at 5:30 in the morning, every day, and ends around 8 o’clock at night," he said. "Even when I go home, I continue to work. People trust their bodies to me, so I’d better know everything about the people I help.

"Headaches, paralysis, loss of vision, loss of function. These are the same symptoms that people had when Christ did his miracles." Ghaly paused. "Medicine and business don’t mix. Like Christ said, ‘You can’t serve both God and money.’"

But even Ghaly has patients he cannot save.

"I leave death up to God," he said. "I will do everything possible to help a patient. If objective findings show permanent brain injury, and if I know that I did my part, then I will respect that."

"I tell my patients that God will let you know. That way, you never have to worry about whether or not you should pull the plug."