Married Michigan doctors to help at a Syrian refugee camp


EAST LANSING, Mich. – What did you do on your summer vacation?

A pair of married doctors from East Lansing will have a good answer for that this year. They are joining a large humanitarian effort to help Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan.

Dr. Ahmed El-Sanhouri, 38, a retina specialist and his wife, Dr. Aya Zaky, 32, a dentist, will join the six-day humanitarian effort in Jordan, where 1 million refugees from war-torn Syria have fled.

The couple used vacation time and paid their own travel expenses. They even packed their own medical supplies for the trip, with patients chipping in to help.

El-Sanhouri’s job will be to treat diabetic retinopathy.

“If you don’t treat it properly, you will go blind,” said El-Sanhouri, who works at L.O. Eye Care in Lansing. “I think it’s important, especially in terms of diabetic eye disease . this is something you can do to have a dramatic impact on their lives.”

Zaky is a dentist with East Lansing Family Dentistry. She previously worked for Michigan Community Dental Clinics, serving low-income patients. She will focus on children in need of dental care.

“Helping other people makes me happy. You feel like you have an impact on somebody’s life. It’s very important,” she told the Lansing State Journal .

It’s the first humanitarian trip for them. Zaky is fluent in Arabic and El-Sanhouri speaks some. Both were born in Egypt but moved to the Detroit area with their families. El-Sanhouri was a preschooler when he moved to the U.S., while Zaky was already out of college.

He got his medical degree from Wayne State University while she went to dental school at University of Detroit Mercy. Friends introduced them.

They’ve been married 11 years and have three children: 9-year-old Yusef, 5-year-old Noor and 2-year-old Yasen.

Their kids are staying with relatives in Egypt while the couple provides treatment to refugees. They’ll treat patients at Zaatari, a camp near the Syrian border, and also work out of medical clinics near the camp.

The trip is organized by Dr. Hend Azhary, a family physician at Michigan State University. She’s a Syrian native who has been joining relief efforts by the Syrian American Medical Society since 2011. She’s the leader of this trip, which will provide many different medical services but will have a particular focus on facial reconstruction for those disfigured by war injuries.

“The need is huge,” Azhary said.

She said she’s in a good position to help.

“I speak their language and I know their suffering,” she said.

Azhary said some 90 medical personnel from around the country are joining the relief effort, including two translators and three more doctors from the Lansing area besides the East Lansing couple.

El-Sanhouri said he grew up impoverished. His mother instilled the importance of service.

“The U.S. is the land of opportunity. If you can make it, you’ve got to give back,” he said.

Zaky said she wants to help people.

“It’s an amazing feeling to bring somebody’s self-confidence back by making them smile,” she said.