From Goats to Artificial Hearts: The Story of Dr.Mussivand

If you were to ask a Kurd whether they knew who Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was, they would most certainly, without a doubt, know about his historic legacy and why he is such a revered figure amongst the Kurdish community. However, if you were to ask that same individual who Tofy Mussivand is, their reply would most likely be just a blank stare. If you fall into the latter “I have no idea who Tofy Mussivand is” bandwagon, then have no fear, take a sip of your sugar-saturated black chai, relax, and let me introduce you to the world renowned (except in Kurdistan, ironically) Kurd that is Dr.Tofy Mussivand.

Tofy was born in the small village of Varkaneh in the province of Hamadan in Iran to Kurdish parents. As the eldest son of the family he started working as a shepherd at a fairly young age. Eventually, he gave up his lucrative goat herding business and went on to study engineering at the University of Tehran. In 1965, Mussivand’s hard work and dedication paid off when he received a scholarship to study hydrology at the University of Alberta in Canada. Ultimately, he moved on to study what he has become world renowned for: medical engineering.

So he’s a medical engineer, not a big deal, right? Wrong. Tofy Mussivand did not just engineer any medical contraption, he invented the Artificial Cardiac Pump. The Cardiac Pump is mostly used in heart surgery as it was designed to take over the function of  breathing and pumping blood for the patient. It allows the patient’s heart to be disconnected from the body for longer than the twenty minutes it takes for a patient to die. “We have to make an artificial heart that is not two hundred or three hundred pounds, but five hundred or six hundred grams,” said Mussivand in an interview. Surgeons and Cardiologists around the world advised him that the task would be an impossible feat. Within the span of four years however, he announced his invention and shocked the medical field.

Today, Tofy is the chair and director of the Cardiovascular Diseases Program at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the chair of the Medical Devices Program, a professor of surgery in the Faculty of Medicine and a professor of engineering in the School of Information Technology and Engineering at the University of Ottawa. Amongst many other accomplishments, Dr. Mussivand has also put together the Medical Devices Innovation Institute at the University of Ottawa which consists of a team of highly qualified professors, doctors, scientists and engineers who all share a common ambition of developing society through the advancement of medical equipment. Currently, Mussivand and his group are working on twenty-four innovative medical device technologies including a project where they are engineering a microchip that could identify a person’s DNA from a single fingerprint in less than fifteen seconds. In addition, Mussivand is a Fellow of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences and a Member of the European Academy of Sciences. In 2001, he won the NSERC University-Industry Synergy Award. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (the highest scholarly honour in Canada) and has served the last three Canadian prime ministers as a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology (PMACST).

What is the key to his success you ask? Lewis Chow, a former senior advisor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute believes that the key to his success has to do with the fact that “he is a genius and along with that of course he’s an extremely hard worker,” surely a potent combination. Mussivand however notes that the key to success lies within surrounding yourself with “smart and practical people.”

Although Dr.Mussivand is not fighting for the freedom and liberation of the Kurds from an oppressive regime as did Dr.Ghassemlou, Tofy is making unprecedented achievements in the field of medical sciences, benefiting all of humanity. Due to his perseverance and hard work, he is saving lives daily and forever pushing the boundaries of medical innovation and engineering. The story of  Dr.Mussivand, who started out as a young shepherd boy and has become a world renowned medical engineer beautifully exemplifies the truism that the life you are born into is irrelevant: rather, it is what you do with your life that truly matters. If these accomplishments do not reserve him a spot in individuals that the Kurdish community should highly respect and acknowledge as we drink our black chai whilst madly debating politics, then I believe no individual is worthy of that honour.