Photo credit: Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press
Reports of the 1994 genocide, led by Hutu nationalists of primarily Tutsi people, is said to have caused the deaths of upwards of 800,000 people in Rwanda. In spite of being present for such trauma and even losing family members amidst the slaughter of her people, Dr. Claire Karekezi has persisted beyond her wildest dreams to become the first and only female neurosurgeon to practice in Rwanda.
During a time when many lives were lost and others chose to flee the country, Dr. Karekezi managed to finish high school in her native country and also began attending a local university on a government provided scholarship. Her decision to pursue medical school first took her to Sweden where she was first introduced to the field of neurosurgery. Initially having interest in pursuing studies in radiology, fate had other plans as the neurosurgery department was the only department operating during her time spent in Sweden.
From Sweden, her medical pursuits took her to various places in Europe, other parts of Africa, and Canada. She continued to study and hone her surgical skills with the hopes of one day returning to her native Rwanda to practice while also inspiring young girls who look like her to never give up on their dreams.
In an interview earlier this month with The Toronto Star, Dr. Karekezi reflected on the present significance of living through such a tumultuous time in Rwanda by sharing “I keep pushing because the genocide happened, the whole world was watching and no one did anything. But we came through that, we are a strong nation, and we have very brave people who have managed to do impressive things now.”
Upon her return to Rwanda, Dr. Karekezi hopes to partner with the four male neurosurgeons who currently practice in the country to launch a neuro-oncology center. Numerous colleagues and friends have also taken to social media to offer their congratulations, support, and encouragement to her knowing her backstory and what her present accomplishments can represent to so many for generations to come.
Congratulations, Dr. Karekezi! Your demonstrated persistence, determination, and focus is truly awe inspiring!