Behnam Badie is a brain surgeon-researcher with a uniquely personal connection to his mission.
Behnam Badie's path to brain surgery started with a closed door.
As a resident, he wanted to become a heart surgeon. On the way to his operating room, though, he'd pass the surgical theater for neurosurgery. A cover tantalizingly obscured the window — and the mysteries behind it.
He was intrigued, so he changed his rotation three days before deadline. He's glad he did.
"During those weeks of neurosurgery, that's when I really fell in love," says Badie, M.D., professor of surgery and director of City of Hope's Brain Tumor Program.
Budding from this desire to embrace a challenge, Badie's career has been marked by both success and personal tragedy. These experiences spur him toward his ultimate goal: achieving better results for patients.
As a child in his native Iran, Badie loved playing with his chemistry set or tinkering with electronics. Like other future doctors and scientists, he was fascinated with what made life go. Eventually, medicine became the way he could combine his curiosity about biology and love of research while also helping patients.
Today, Badie performs surgery on some of the most complex brain cancers. He also leads studies that turn the immune system against cancer in the brain.
The two roles — treatment and research — provide an important balance.
"I don't think I could be just a neurosurgeon or just a researcher," says Badie. "When I get busy with surgeries, I always miss my lab. And when I don’t have surgeries, I miss that satisfaction as well.
"They feed into each other. Knowing that the research is going well, that we're curing tumors in mice, gives me hope to keep going with the surgery."
There's also a more personal motivation.
In 2004, when Badie was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The case was complicated and matched the exact profile of Badie's area of surgical expertise. His father insisted that he perform the operation.
He took on that unique challenge — a moment in his life when he felt like he was "not on Earth."
Despite his efforts, and further treatment with radiation, his father died within a year of being diagnosed.
"I know that I gave him the best chance. If I'd not accepted responsibility — had someone else do it — that would be a heavy weight on my shoulders now," he says.
This extraordinary experience allows Badie to understand acutely what his patients and their families are going through. It also keeps him striving to help them beat the disease.
"No matter how many patients I've seen, there's always a memory of my father and what he went through," says Badie. "When I see patients, I think, 'I've got to make sure that that doesn’t happen to this family, or this son.'"
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