Early one morning, early last week, Kamal Mansour got a long-distance
The man on the other line was a doctor in Cairo, Egypt, someone with whom Mansour
had never spoken. He told Mansour about his father, a retired general in the
Egyptian army, who was suffering from cancer of the esophagus. He had gone through
chemotherapy, but still required surgery.
The man said he had spoken to a surgeon at the largest military hospital in Egypt,
gave him this advice: “Kamal Mansour is the only man who can operate
on your father.”
For Mansour, professor of cardiothoracic surgery and a native of Egypt, his response
was immediate. Of course.
Mansour travels to Egypt three or four times a year, staying about 10 days at
Although these trips offer the pleasures of returning to one’s
homeland, Mansour is there to work. During his upcoming trip, which runs from
May 1–11, Mansour will be operating on patients, now including the general,
at the National Cancer Institute.
For about 10 years Mansour has been making these pilgrimages to Egyptian teaching
and university hospitals not only for clinical work but also to train Egyptian
doctors and perform procedures that may be beyond their current reach.
“I always say I work in a circle,” Mansour said. “I never have
a set time to work. Whenever somebody needs me, I go.”
This work ethic has defined Mansour’s time at Emory since he joined the
then-three-person section of cardiothoracic surgery in 1968, just a few months
after completing his residency training at Emory Hospital. He had graduated
from medical school in Cairo and had worked in general surgery at American
hospitals in Jordan and Gaza, among others, prior to coming to the United States
and settling in Atlanta.
“When I left Egypt, I just wanted to train myself in a difficult specialty,” Mansour
said. “I really wanted to specialize in cardiothoracic surgery; it was
an up-and-coming specialty at the time. There are a lot of challenges. Fifty
years ago, people said if you opened the chest, the patient would never live.
Now we can open both sides of the chest and everything is fine.”
Upon completing his residency, Mansour was recruited by Emory’s Charles
Hatcher, a cardiothoracic surgeon who later would become director of the Woodruff
Health Sciences Center. Hatcher proved to be a significant mentor during Mansour’s
early career. He encouraged his younger colleague to focus on the areas that
interested him, which centered on thoracic surgery—dealing with the chest
(cardiothoracic surgery, the division under which general thoracic surgery
now falls at Emory, also encompasses the heart). It is an area in which Mansour
is considered a pioneer.
His specialties include four procedures: tracheal resection and reconstruction;
major chest-wall resections; the correction of chest-wall deformities (these
deformities include birth defects such as “funnel chest,” as Mansour
calls it, where the chest wall is receded and “pigeon chest,” where
it protrudes); and esophageal replacement, which entails replacing the esophagus
or a portion of it with a section of the bowel—Emory has the largest
series of cases in the world in this particular procedure.
“Since the beginning of my practice here, I was geared toward establishing
general thoracic surgery as a subspecialty,” Mansour said. That hasn’t
changed, even while the department has expanded. From its humble beginnings,
cardiothoracic surgery now boasts 17 doctors.
Not only has Mansour performed countless major operations at Emory and its
affiliates for more than 30 years, he also has trained hundreds of residents
and doctors, not only in the United States but also in the Middle East. Over
the years, Mansour’s
reputation has only grown.
“Now I can go to Egypt, I can operate anywhere I want, wherever the need
is, and still have my base here at Emory in Atlanta,” he said. Mansour,
in fact, is somewhat of a star in Egypt. His operations have received significant
newspaper coverage, he is a medical expert on Egyptian television, and his
writings (which include more than 150 articles and 15 textbook chapters) are
At the end of this academic year, Mansour no longer will accept
new patients at Emory Hospital, focusing instead on training residents
in general thoracic surgery at the VA Medical Center. “Retirement” is hardly the “operative” word
for this next step in Mansour’s career.
“I was there at the VA yesterday, that’s where I am going today,
and tomorrow I have surgery, all in the VA,” Mansour said. “What
I’m doing is shifting roles. I’ve got to give a place for the
young ones to grow.”
Mansour, who is 74 but appears quite a bit younger, is doing a lot to help
out those “young ones”—doctors who are just beginning their
practices. Mansour and his wife Cleo have established the Kamal A. Mansour
Professorship of Thoracic Surgery, which will fund one position in the specialty.
“I wanted to have a legacy,” Mansour said. “I was encouraged
by several people here to create a chair or a professorship in my name. I
had a positive feeling because of that, and I thought of many things. I came
to Emory years ago, and I was trained well. The atmosphere was so conductive
to do good work here.”
As befits a man who has traveled the world all his life, Mansour has an eye
for culture as well as science. In his home he has a large collection of
antiquities, including Egyptian artifacts. Mansour also collects automobiles—he
owns eight, among them a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari. “I buy the cars not
as antiques, but because of the beauty of execution and the energy that’s
put in them—the
finesse of the design,” he said. “I appreciate people who work
so hard to produce something beautiful. That’s what surgery is all
hard to produce something beautiful and meaningful."