Growing up in Bangladesh, a then-8-year-old Mikail Kamal, DO, was fighting for his life. The diagnosis was leukemia and led to him and his family relocating to Singapore for three years for his treatment. The chemotherapy and the associated pain of the illness wound up turning a young child against the field of medicine with its constant intrusions and supposed solutions.
But not forever.
Dr. Kamal, who graduated from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) in 2018 and is now in his first year of family medicine residency at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York, would eventually channel his pain into purpose and, later, into progress.
The road to medicine
Prior to medical school and residency, Dr. Kamal was an undergraduate student in biomedical engineering and mathematics at Columbia University in New York. There, during his senior year in 2012, he created Tampostat, a low-cost intrauterine device for use in the field by midwives and traditional birth attendants to stop post-partum hemorrhage (PPH). PPH is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide affecting 14 million women annually in mainly low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Kamal and his research team at Columbia won the capstone award for best invention of the year from the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. The team later formed Jibon Health Technologies, with Dr. Kamal as CEO, and won a $250,000 grant in August 2014 to fund clinical trials in Bangladesh, which began in April 2015. The grant was awarded by Saving Lives at Birth, a health advocacy group formed in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which seeks groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in poor, hard-to-reach communities.
“My friends and I were interested in global health, especially in developing countries,” Dr. Kamal says. “If you affect the mother’s life, that has enormous benefits down the road. In our research, we found that children who have mothers are likely to live beyond 5 years old and are more likely to thrive and have an active life.”
A hematologist’s suggestion
Still, the road to Tampostat was neither easy nor anticipated for Dr. Kamal, whose family moved to the U.S. from Singapore when he was 11 years old.
As he recovered from his chemotherapy, his hematologist suggested he volunteer in the hospital where he was being treated when he turned 18.
He eventually did. And, quite surprisingly for Dr. Kamal, he loved it.
The volunteer stint would lead him to a research position while at Columbia, working alongside cardiology fellows to convert stem cells into heart cells. From this, a newfound passion was born, one that included the intersection of medicine and engineering.
“You need a medical background to understand the patient and the things that will bring them relief,” Dr. Kamal says. “An engineer is the right person to design these solutions. There are not many people with this unique background that can look at both perspectives simultaneously.”
The combination of medicine and engineering, Dr. Kamal says, creates a unique perspective on how to best treat patients and the mechanisms required to do so in the most efficient manner. “The human body is one of the most beautifully engineered things on this planet.”
More clinical trials planned
Dr. Kamal and his team are applying for a second grant in order to conduct a second round of clinical trials of Tampostat in Bangladesh, where Jibon Health will focus its efforts even though many patients in the U.S. face the same issues with access to health care as those in developing countries.
Dr. Kamal says that the number of people who do not have medical insurance or suffer from a lack of access to health care in the U.S. is alarming. “The things I’ve dedicated my life to fighting in developing countries, I see in the heart of New York City,” Dr. Kamal says. “Even though we live in the wealthiest country in the world, the population we serve has the second highest volume of Medicaid in the state of New York.”
Despite the challenges, Dr. Kamal is committed to New York and to the principles of service he learned at TouroCOM with its mission of “underrepresented physicians serving underserved communities.”
“I fit right into that,” Dr. Kamal says, who was also attracted to the school’s location in Harlem. “Now I can give back to the community where I grew up.”
Dr. Kamal credits Martin Levine, DO, interim clinical dean at TouroCOM and professor of family and community medicine, for opening his eyes to the significance of primary care. Dr. Levine was on the scene to assist the injured at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“He’s basically a rockstar in family medicine,” Dr. Kamal says. “He [Dr. Levine] really helped me to understand how primary care is the first-step in medicine; it’s critical.”
In family medicine, in particular, Dr. Kamal says, he gets to serve many segments of the community that he might not serve in another specialty. “I can treat ob/gyn patients, basic surgery patients, psychology patients, and others. And osteopathic medicine gives me more ways to treat them.”
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