Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear lab gowns like Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, a neurosurgeon based in New Orleans who has saved numerous lives in two continents. The 49-year-old professor of neurosurgery and spinal surgery of the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute gave up 25% of his salary for a flexible schedule, giving him time to fly back and forth to Nigeria.
When Sulaiman is not in his hospital in New Orleans, he performs medical missions in his hometown for at least seven days each month. Sulaiman understands the dismal healthcare system of the African continent, especially in Nigeria, with only a 55% average life expectancy. Being born to a poverty-stricken family helped Dr. Sulaiman shape his perspective while growing up.
“We hardly have any electricity or water. My parents do not have any western education. They can hardly write or read in English.”
Sulaiman had ten siblings and spent his childhood and early adolescent years in Lagos, Nigeria, in what he described as a place of “deep ghetto.” Sulaiman received tremendous support from a network of local and international supporters to fund his education. At the age of 19, he received a scholarship to study Medicine in Bulgaria through Nigeria’s Bureau for External Aid.
His scholarship paved for many opportunities. Sulaiman graduated and worked briefly in Canada, where he met his future wife, Patricia. The couple eventually established RNZ Global, a healthcare development company providing world-class solutions in sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, the Lagos-born neurosurgeon is one of the leading spine surgeons in the country with his skill in the application of minimally abrasive techniques to treat spinal disorders. He has also contributed to neuroscientific research while spearheading Ochsner’s Laboratory for Neural Regeneration.
Sulaiman also took advantage of his networks and expertise to modernize spine care and neurosurgery practices in private and government-funded hospitals in the US. Even as a well-established neurosurgeon with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Sulaiman has never turned his back on his advocacy.
“Why we’re doing what we’re doing? I think it’s about purpose. Everybody in life, you need to figure out what your purpose is.”
Sulaiman assembled a team and performed surgeries for over 500 patients in Nigeria for free and provided preventive medicine to 5,000 people both in the US and Nigeria. Ochsner extends their full support to Dr. Sulaiman’s efforts by giving supplies to the neurosurgeon’s medical missions overseas.
Fueled by his lifelong philosophy, Sulaiman used his privilege to impact the lives of his patients. “My philosophy is whether you are a Nigerian, a Vietnamese, or an American, everybody should have access to some degree of good quality healthcare.” He said in an interview with WWLTV.
Dr. Olawale Sulaiman captures the beauty of giving back. Behind his success as a neurosurgeon, he stresses the importance of service. He continues to highlight how one can drive impact, even without saving someone’s life.
“If everybody gives back a little bit, humanity would be a lot better.”
Together with his wife and team in RNZ global, Sulaiman continues to revolutionize healthcare and neurosurgery through the latest innovations in the field of medicine—all while giving attention to the less privileged.