Software designer turned surgeon found a path ‘between medicine and engineering’

Dr. Ahmed Aoude designed software to be used during surgery. But he decided that, rather than help surgeons, he wanted to be one.

Article content

The path to medicine chosen by Dr. Ahmed Aoude was perhaps less direct than that taken by many doctors.

Advertisement 2

Article content

He has two engineering degrees from McGill University: a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a master’s in biomedical engineering in the faculty of medicine. In his master’s work, he developed a monitor to detect post-operative apnea in children.

“I was always between medicine and engineering,” said Aoude, who came to Canada with his family from Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi, at the age of two. As a child, he recalled, he would dismantle the sound systems in the house and reassemble them.

“We are engineers on my dad’s side and doctors on my mom’s side. I was blessed to understand mathematics very fast, and that is what pushed me on to the physics and engineering side of things,” he said.

With his engineering credentials, Aoude joined a Montreal software company and worked as a project manager, designing and developing computer software to help spine and orthopedic surgeons perform surgery more safely.

advertisement 3

Article content

Computer-assisted surgery is a broad term used to describe an operation in which imaging scans and computer technology are used to create a three-dimensional model of an organ. Among other things, it allows for smaller incisions and permits surgeons to plan the best route. Three-dimensional guides have made advanced tumor removal and reconstruction procedures more feasible than even five years ago, Aoude said.

Observing surgeons as they operated, “I said, ‘I should be doing that: It looks like so much fun.’”

And I have decided that, rather than help surgeons, he wanted to be one.

So he went to medical school. After earning a medical degree at the Université de Montréal in 2013, he completed a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery at McGill, did a fellowship in spine surgery at the University of Calgary and a second fellowship, in orthopedic oncology, at the University of Toronto. Orthopedic oncology is focused on the treatment of tumors and cancers affecting bones and soft tissue.

advertisement 4

Article content

“Training from two different perspectives, which is rare, you get a sense of the full-out management of a patient,” Aoude said.

He returned to Montreal in 2020 and joined the McGill University Health Center as a spine surgeon and orthopedic oncology surgeon. He is an assistant professor of surgery and director of McGill’s orthopedic research laboratory.

Aoude, 40, is part of the McGill Sarcoma group, a team within the MUHC specializing in adult bone and soft tissue sarcoma. A sarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in tissues like bone or soft tissue, including fat, muscle and nerves. Sarcomas represent two per cent of all cancers.

His practice includes complex oncology resections — the surgical removal of a tumor — and spine reconstructive surgery. The most common cancers that spread to the spine are breast, lung and prostate cancers, he said; he also does surgery for spinal tumors originating in the spine.

advertisement 5

Article content

In oncology, the best hope for a cure is to remove as much of the tumor as possible during surgery, said Aoude, who operates mainly at the Montreal General Hospital and at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

“As you can imagine, that can become pretty complex, especially when it is around the spinal cord and spine.”

Ideally, a tumor is removed in one piece. In the case of a large tumor, that can take up to 36 hours, he said, and involves other surgeons, including vascular, thoracic and general surgeons and sometimes neurosurgeons. His role is as “the quarterback behind the process,” he said.

“I picked the two most complex things because I like the technical challenge and the difficulty in the surgery itself and because, with every patient you touch, you are changing their lives.”

advertisement 6

Article content

Aoude said he has had offers to move to the United States, with what would be “astronomical” earnings, but “I try not to listen to the offers most of the time because I don’t want to go for the wrong reasons.”

For him, home is “where your roots are and where you grew up and where your friends are and your family is — and that’s what keeps me here.”

In his free time Aoude, who is engaged to be married, enjoys playing hockey and working out.

“My passion is surgery but, combined with engineering, I am like a kid in the playground: I can spend all day doing this because I just love it,” he said.

“You have to have nerves of steel. I never panic. That’s just the way I am.”

[email protected]

advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.

Leave a Comment