April 26, 2004

Surgical Professorship         

By Eric Rangus

Early one morning, early last week, Kamal Mansour got a long-distance call—a very
long-distance call.

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, who
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 a time.
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 read widely.

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 about—working hard to produce something beautiful and meaningful."