Dr. Claire Karekezi, a young doctor who survived the Rwandan genocide, will become the African country’s first and only female neurosurgeon. Dr. Karekezi trained at Toronto Western Hospital in its advanced cancer brain surgery program. In July, she will be returning to her home country as the first and only female neurosurgeon.
Speaking on living through the genocide as a 10-year-old, the neurosurgeon told CTV News “We grew up with fear, but we grew up with survival instincts — we have to push, we have to get through this.” Karekezi fled Rwanda with her parents in 1994 when members of the Hutu ethnic group wiped out a large number of the Tutsi minority group. Due to the mass killings, more than two million refugees fled the country.
She finished high school in 2001 and went on to study medicine at the University of Rwanda on a full government scholarship. After receiving her medical degree, she applied to the Toronto program where she was accepted for her intelligence and personal story of overcoming struggle. Dr. Mark Bernstein, the Canadian neurosurgeon, who chose Karekezi for the spot.
“I have a soft spot for underdogs,” Dr. Bernstein said. “And just like Rwanda has picked itself up, Claire has picked herself up. She has dogged determination to succeed in neurosurgery.”
Karekezi says surviving the genocide was not the sole inspiration for her becoming a doctor. It was a dream and path she felt she was born to do. When she gets back to Rwanda, the neurosurgeon wants to help to improve cancer care in the country.