Meet Dr Syed Abdullah: The Neurosurgeon Who Believes Medicine Transcends Borders

20 January 2022

Article by: Nur Yee Jie Min, Corporate Communications

Dr Syed Abdullah
Neurosurgeon, Spine Surgeon

Like a familiar taxi driver who needs no navigation; Dr Syed Abdullah Al-Haddad, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City is appreciated by his many patients.

Becoming a doctor is a profession some people aspire to be but coming from a military environment, Dr Syed Abdullah Al-Haddad was more geared to become a high military echelon. Yet, fate decided that he was to become a doctor. He was among the first six candidates to be shortlisted for the United States Military Academy West Point but ended up receiving a scholarship from the Ministry of Defence to pursue medicine, and the rest is history.

“Arriving in the UK was quite exciting – the first freedom in my entire life. Initially, I was a bit homesick. I thought I wouldn’t have lasted for more than 3 years, but I ended up staying there for 27 years! I enjoyed every moment and have covered the breadth of the UK,” said Dr Syed, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City.

Bedford School, UK in 1987

“I was into anatomy and dissection in medical school, and even won the Barker prize for anatomy. I knew I was probably gifted to be a surgeon. I had the hands to create something from nothing and to respect the tissue that I am dealing with, but I have never wanted to become a neurosurgeon. In fact, neurosurgery wasn’t a subject I was well exposed to as a medical student.

“I initially wanted to become a cardiothoracic surgeon and destiny has put me where I am supposed to be. In 1999, I was at The Walton Centre in Liverpool, the largest single dedicated Neuroscience NHS Hospital in the UK, and I thought why not explore it? I was at the right moment at the right time, and I have not looked back since. It was a great choice!”

Being A Doctor Transcends Borders

Dr Syed has been back in Malaysia for the past 8 years and he believes that being a doctor means the same no matter where he is in the world – as long as he is serving his patients and delivering his best for them. Although moving back to Malaysia is not the same as travelling home for the holidays, Dr Syed didn’t face much difficulties, especially having been brought up in a tough environment. He credits his parents, wife and family for being his strong support. 

“I deal with all kinds of spinal, cranial, tumour, degenerative, functional, facial and vascular conditions. It gets challenging when things don’t go as planned. With all battles, you have many successes and occasionally you will encounter failures. Failure is most difficult to deal with as I am human and I am dealing with another human who is someone else’s family member. When things don’t go as planned, that changes the history of this person and the family forever. 

“The first principal in medicine is to do no harm and that is always in my mind. I have become wiser and more selective in the things I do, which translates to a majority of my patients having good results. My pride and joy of doing what I do is seeing my patients do well and they feel happy when they come to see me. What you see in my clinic – the thank you cards, photos and gifts – is what I enjoy most,” he said. 

(Left) Surgery with Dr Saw Lim Beng

Navigating The Brain 

A surgeon is like a good taxi driver who does not need a navigation system. A taxi driver knows his way around the city and with his acquired knowledge, he can go anywhere. Similarly, a surgeon once he is equipped with the knowledge and experience, he is able to operate on any parts of the brain safely with confidence. 

“Some places may be more difficult to operate on so you need to know your limits. Neurosurgery has changed with new instruments in our armamentarium. Today, neurosurgery is safer with less complications and improved mortality with better patient experience. I believe there is a greater power than a human’s ability. I deal with God’s creations and with every difficulty, there is ease. I perform my prayers and ask for ease in my day-to-day doings,” he said. 

Dr Syed Abdullah (middle) in Hong Kong, teaching a programme in neurosurgery

Keeping Passion Alive

On surgery days, Dr Syed spends a lot of his time in the operation theatre which can take up to days. Aftercare is as vital (if not more) as the surgery. Having said that, Dr Syed has no problems taking time off to rejuvenate. He always starts his day by cycling or jogging before coming to tend to his patients in the hospital. 

“How do I keep my passion alive? Identify your objective in life and enjoy every moment of it. Your passion goes away once you don’t enjoy the work and if I no longer enjoy the work, I should stop doing what I do,” he said.