Article by Magda Danish
Amr Dessouki comes from a background many Egyptian Americans can relate to. His father was a Supreme Court Justice and his mother, a Sorbonne educated house wife with a major in Philosophy. Both parents belonged to the very different Egypt of that time: A secular, less conservative country where women were encouraged to pursue higher education, roll-up their sleeves, and join their male counterparts in building a strong and solid society. A more tolerant Egypt and a much better one that most of us over 50 have come to know, love, and appreciate!
The younger of two brothers, Amr was born in Giza in 1965. With a French speaking mother, he was destined- at 5 years – to join the “Collège de la Sainte Famille”, a tightly run private French school for boys, often referred to as the “Jésuites”, with campuses in the Daher, Heliopolis and Faggala districts of Cairo. After twelve years with the “Jésuites”, he joined Cairo University and graduated six years later, in 1988, with a degree in Medicine.
Armed with a Green Card, wisely orchestrated with the help of his uncle, long time California resident, Dr. Hadi Salem, Amr moved to Los Angeles in 1989 where he completed a research fellowship in organ transplantation at the University of Southern California. Although he knew very early on that ophthalmology was his passion, but also well aware of how competitive it can be, Amr chose to secure a back-up plan by completing a three year internal medicine residency at Brown University in Rhode Island.
A real Egyptian with an expected affinity for warmer weather and beach front cities, Amr managed to move back to Marina Del Ray to join the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA for a one-year fellowship. It was already 1995, he had just turned 30, life was good, and by all standards, he was on top of the world.
In 1996, he returned to Egypt for a brief vacation and ran into Rasha El Sakka, the younger sister of one of his friends. Rasha was a graduate of the American University in Cairo with a degree in Economics. An independent young woman with a passion for tennis, music, and world travel, she had earned a reputation among her peers as the girl who joins the work force from September to May, then quits her job so that she does not miss a day of her rightfully earned three month summer vacation! Amused by such attitude, Amr began to look at Rasha – who was only 16 when he left Egypt – in a different light. He admits though that at this point, he was still too enamored with his single status and his Southern California lifestyle to give it all up so abruptly. But Rasha did what every smart, educated young woman would do: she gave Amr an ultimatum! “I’m not into long distance relationships, she said, it’s all or nothing!”
And “all” it was! The couple wed in Cairo in 1997 and headed shortly thereafter to the San Francisco Bay Area where Amr was to serve as resident then Chief Resident at the Stanford University Department of Ophthalmology.
In 1999, the couple moved again, this time to Miami, Florida for Amr’s fellowship in retinal surgery at the prestigious Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. A year later he finally started his first practice in Jacksonville, FL, and joined the Retina Associates. By the time their daughter Layla was born in 2001, Rasha and Amr had had enough of Florida and were seriously looking into returning back to California. Opportunity knocked when Amr received a recruitment offer from the Retinal Diagnostic Center in the Bay Area which he joined as Associate Surgeon. The year was 2002 and the family moved back to Los Altos, CA where their son Jimmy Jamal was born and where they have been residing ever since.
Amr’s expertise focuses on the diseases and surgeries of the retina which is the back part of the eye. He subspecializes, among other things, in “Macular Degeneration” which is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50 as well as “Diabetic Retinopathy” which is the most common cause of vision loss in people under 50. He operates in partnership with 3 other retina surgeons out of 4 locations, two in Santa Clara County and two in Santa Cruz County.
As the Director of Research at the Retinal Diagnostic Center, Amr is the principal investigator for several multicenter clinical trials and his research was featured on ABC local news in September 2008. He has published many papers in peer-reviewed national and international journals, lectures periodically locally and overseas and is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University where he teaches the residents and medical students. He is the former president of the Peninsula Eye Society and he founded the Bay Area Retina Society.
On his frequent trips to Egypt, Amr sees patients at Al Noor Eye Hospital, the only non-profit eye specialty hospital founded in Cairo by the late Dr. Aly El Mofty, Amr’s cousin and role model. Amr was also greatly influenced by his late uncle, Dr. Gamal Mokhtar, the world renowned Egyptologist and former Chairman of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, who is credited for taking the big international exhibits of King Tutankhamun and King Ramses II to North America, Europe, the Soviet Union, and Asia in the early seventies.
When not working, Amr loves to travel with his family, plays soccer every time he can and has always been a loyal “Zamalkawy”, although currently keeping a very low profile about this affiliation for reasons obvious only to Egyptian soccer fans!
Meeting Amr and his family was a heartwarming experience and a source of deep pride. He is without a doubt one of the shining examples of the best that Egypt has to offer.