Tarek Obaid

Inspired to change lives

By Mayo Clinic Staff

"I wanted to do what I could to help these people in despair," Tarek Obaid explains.

Sometimes people are wounded as deeply by the way others react to their injury as they are by the injury itself. This is particularly true when that injury happens to a person's face or hands.

Tarek Obaid, of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, recognized the anguish that accompanies extreme facial injury, and he wanted to help. At 35 years old, he became one of the youngest Mayo Clinic benefactors to reach Philanthropic Partner level, Mayo's highest level of recognition, with a $10 million gift to support reconstructive transplantation. Reconstructive transplantation at Mayo Clinic includes hand and, in the future, face transplants for patients who require complex reconstruction that conventional methods cannot address.

To understand what led someone this young to give a gift of this magnitude, is to recognize the relationships that have influenced Tarek.

"My parents have been the most important people in my life," he says. "My late father gave his guidance and strong support in my upbringing, in university and in the business world. And my mother. She's the one who's always been there for me, the one I could talk to.

"Growing up, our family always believed that it's important to give. And if we found ourselves in a position to give, we wanted to give to a place that could save lives, or change the meaning of life for people."

Those values influenced Tarek's long-held interest in the latest medical treatments, which he followed by reading scientific reports and staying current on emerging medical technologies. When his father became ill, Tarek became even more involved.

"My father died of cancer," he says. "Unfortunately we weren't able to help him. So now I want to know about everything that's new in medicine. I'm driven to do this."

In 2009, Tarek made his first trip to Mayo Clinic, where his visit was coordinated by a childhood friend, Samir. In fact, Samir Mardini, M.D., is a professor of surgery and a facial reconstructive surgeon at Mayo Clinic.

"Samir and I became friends when I was less than a year old," says Tarek. "Samir's father was the physician who gave my brother and me our first vaccinations when we were just kids."

Eventually, the friends grew up and pursued different careers. Tarek left for Geneva, Switzerland, to attend school, and later he went on to Georgetown University. Following college he worked in investment banking and real estate before founding his own company, PetroSaudi, in 1995. Dr. Mardini also attended Georgetown University. He continued on to become a surgeon, joining Mayo Clinic's Department of Surgery in 2006.

Inspired by his father's illness and his own experience as a Mayo Clinic patient, not to mention his respect for the work of his friend Samir, Tarek's ideas about medical care and his interest in new discoveries and treatments took shape.

"Traumatic injury, for instance, changes the way people live their lives," says Tarek. "If people have a disability that everyone sees when they go outside, eventually they stop wanting to leave their home. And that's horrible. I wanted to do what I could to help these people in despair."

Knowing that Mayo is the place that can make a difference, he decided to support reconstructive transplantation at Mayo Clinic in honor of his parents, Essam and Dalal Obaid. His gift establishes the Essam and Dalal Obaid Center for Reconstructive Transplant Surgery. It includes an honored scholar position named after his grandfather Ahmad Obaid, as well as an endowed program fund and an operating fund, also named in honor of the Obaid family.

"With severe facial deformity, people can live, but not be 'alive,' " says Dr. Mardini. "This gift changes that by helping people gain or regain their quality of life."

Tarek's mother, Dalal says, "We're so proud of this gift. As a mother, it sickens me to read in the papers about the sons and daughters disfigured from tragic accidents and injuries. But now, seeing my son has done this — it's a blessing and I feel I extend this blessing to other mothers."

"We make this gift in honor of the Obaid family values, particularly hope," says her son. "My family considers hope the most powerful emotion. It's hope that provides the fortitude to persevere, and it's hope that gives people strength.