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It was a tragic event in his own life that allowed Dr. Rashid Abdu, who treated people for decades, to see what his patients were going through.
In 1993, Dr. Abdu’s wife, Joanie, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She, too, was a medical professional as a registered nurse.
The husband-wife medical professionals became everyday, pedestrian patients:
Multiple appointments, tests, traveling between facilities, long delays etc.
They even traveled out of town for treatments not yet available locally – Cleveland, Pittsburgh and more.
They were hopeful Joanie would get the correct course of treatment, recover, and they would resume their happy lives.
It was not to be.
It became evident that the aggressive cancer Joanie had would soon take her life.
“Joanie was the kind of person who saw only the good in people. She was the love of my life,” said Dr. Abdu. And cancer came and stole her aware from me.”
Dr. Abdu promised her as she died:
Youngstown would have a comprehensive breast care center in her name so that others would not suffer as she did.
It was to be yet another test of wills in the fascinating, unimaginable life of Dr. Abdu.
Born in Yemen in 1932, he was a part of a large, poor farm family that lived off the land. His cousin lived in a big city that had “lights without kerosene,” cars and all these other amazing things. As a 12-year-old, Dr. Abdu traveled three days on a camel to get there and visit. A relative became sick and a doctor saved him.
That moment was seared in his memory. He, too, would be a doctor some day.
In that city, an American counselor took a shine to Dr. Abdu and enrolled him in a school for half a day while he worked the rest of the day to earn his way.
That counselor eventually moved back to America, and they invited Dr. Abdu to make his way over if he wanted. He did, arriving in 1948, and went to high school in the U.S.
The king of Yemen learned of Dr. Abdu’s improbable story and paid for his college. In the letter, the king left Dr. Abdu with one vital prompt:
“Do what has to be done as it should be done.”
The Joanie Abdu Center did not happen fast. It would take 18 years. Dr. Abdu had been planning and researching and donating his own funds to create the Center before his dream came true.
In 2011, he was able to open the $8 million Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown.
Pieces of its last funding came from the new Panerathon race program that was just getting started. The two programs have been joined ever since.
“We have a beautiful community,” said Dr. Abdu. “They understood our mission. They embraced it. It has become a community project. For me, I am so grateful.”