Donor Story: The Ahmed Family Supports Brachial Plexus Research

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In May 2018, Azeemuddin Ahmed, MD, MBA, made his first gift to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP): $25 to the Children’s Fund. Two months later, he emailed the Foundation to ask about endowments to CHOP, expressing an interest in orthopaedic surgery.

Izahd sitting in grassIt turned out that Dr. Ahmed and his family live in Iowa, where he serves as clinical professor and Executive Vice Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. They travel to CHOP every few months so his son Izahduddin (Izahd) can be seen by Apurva Shah, MD, MBA, a nationally recognized expert in pediatric hand and upper-extremity surgery.

When Izahd was born in October 2017, “Right away we could tell there was something wrong with his arm,” explains Dr. Ahmed. Izahd had an injury to the brachial plexus, a network of intertwined nerves that control movement and sensation in the arm and hand. Izahd’s right arm was paralyzed.

At 7 days old, Izahd started intense physical therapy to keep his muscles strong — and his parents began searching for a treatment plan for their son. Dr. Ahmed had a promising starting point: “Dr. Shah and I were on the faculty together at the University of Iowa before he went to CHOP,” says Dr. Ahmed. “I knew of him, but we didn’t overlap much because we have very different specialties. When Izahd’s condition was diagnosed, I needed to take him to a center with experience in dealing with this injury. I learned more about Dr. Shah’s reputation and skill set from people who knew him well when he was here. The decision to go to CHOP was a no-brainer. As a physician, I know CHOP’s reputation in the medical world.”

In December 2017, the family met with Dr. Shah. Two months later, Dr. Shah performed a six-hour surgery to bypass Izahd’s damaged nerves. As a result, Izahd has regained some function in his arm, and he continues to have physical and occupational therapy in Iowa between visits with Dr. Shah.

A personal motivation

The Ahmeds’ journey from patient family to donor was very personal. “As parents, we met several other families at CHOP — we learned of other people’s situations, and we identified with them and all the emotions that go along with having a child who suffers this injury,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “We really developed a connection to the families and to CHOP. My wife and I thought, ‘How can we help these other families and help CHOP advance brachial plexus care?’”

The Ahmeds are deeply familiar with the work of an institution like CHOP. “I’m an academic physician, and my wife has worked as a social worker in an academic medical center, so we understand the mission of academic medical centers and the importance of research,” says Dr. Ahmed. “Brachial plexus injuries are not a visible area where there’s a lot of funding. It’s relatively unknown. My wife and I talked extensively, and we felt donating was consistent with our belief in academic medicine and advancing research and care of these injuries.”

For the Ahmeds to make the gift a reality, a wonderful thing happened: His brother, his brother’s wife and his parents joined them to establish a $100,000 endowment supporting brachial plexus research at CHOP. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Dr. Ahmed says of his family members. “Their support was tremendous.” The Izahduddin Ahmed Endowed Fund for Brachial Plexus Research will generate funding for the research program in perpetuity. And the family is committed to building the endowment and raising more funds, with a goal of reaching another $100,000.

Dr. Ahmed describes his son, now 2, as “a very resilient child, because he’s endured so much. He’s very social, and he’s a tough kid.” Regardless of how much strength and mobility Izahd gains in his arm and how he adapts to daily living, “He has very few limitations,” says his father.

For two years, the family has been making trips to Philadelphia to receive specialized care. At the end of November, Dr. Ahmed is returning — but not for an appointment at CHOP. “I’m running the Philadelphia Marathon,” he explains happily. “I want to pay homage to Philadelphia. It’s become our second home.”