P.E.I. eye surgeon Dr. Suleiman Sefau dies after 5-year battle with cancer

P.E.I. has lost a leading ophthalmologist and prominent member of the Muslim community.

'There is a hole in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital'

Dr. Suleiman Sefau died July 15. (Muslim Society of Prince Edward Island/Facebook)

P.E.I. has lost a leading ophthalmologist and prominent member of the Muslim community.

Dr. Suleiman Sefau died July 15 after a five-year battle with cancer.

Sefau was given only months to live when he was first diagnosed, the Sefau family wrote in an obituary published in the Guardian. It said he was a patient person who loved his family, friends and community.

Omaro Sefau is the eldest of his five sons. Omaro said the family immigrated to Canada from Libya when he was two years old. He said he looked up to his father "in every way imaginable."

"He was an absolute role model for me in terms of his character — how influential he was in the community. He really meant the world to me," he said, adding he was 17 when his father got sick.

"Over time I became to accept his illness and it actually brought us closer together, which is something I am grateful for," he said. "It's really hard to be grateful in situations like these but I feel it is very important."

Sefau is pictured here with his two youngest boys, Zakaria and Ayoub. (Submitted by Omaro Sefau)

Omaro described his father as a stoic figure who didn't show pain, something he attributed to his father growing up in Libya, where he overcame various obstacles.

"I would see it every day," Omaro said, adding his dad would have excruciating pain in his lower back and thighs.

"I could see it in his face."

Omaro said he would ask his dad if he was alright and he got the same answer every time. His dad would tell him he was OK and point a finger to the sky.

"As a sign to say he was putting his trust in God."

Omaro Sefau stand with his smiling father at his graduation from the UPEI finance program. (Submitted by Omaro Sefau)

Omaro said watching his father handle death so peacefully taught him "how to go on into the next life with honour and dignity."

"I'm deeply deeply grateful to have such a man as my father for 22 years," he said. "He was really a true example to not just myself but to any person in pursuit of improving their character."

The Muslim Society of Prince Edward Island donated $4,000 for a new CT Scanner at the QEH. Alhadi Abusneena, left, president of the Muslim Society of P.E.I., and Sefau, presented the cheque to Brian Thompson, QEH Foundation board member. (Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation)

As an ophthalmologist, Sefau provided care for people with various eye conditions and inspired his colleagues.

Dr. Trevor Jain, an emergency physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, worked alongside Sefau for more than a decade.

"He was the type of physician that we all wanted to be, in that he was humble, kind, compassionate, easy to get along with and he was just an incredible physician," Jain said.

Sefau was constantly on call to help deal with emergency eye issues and always approached those situations with a calm demeanour, Jain said.

"We have a lot of physicians that are technically experts in their field, but he had those qualities which were more difficult to measure, or to learn," he said.

"He was just an amazing spirit. And he was the type of doc that I strive to be."

In 2009, Sefau told CBC a lack of mosques was driving immigrants away. He went on to help build one of the first mosques on the Island. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Jain said staff at the hospital knew Sefau was sick and were saddened to hear he had died.

"There is a hole in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," Jain said.

"Our health-care system has lost a giant in the health system on Prince Edward Island and I hope there is a fitting tribute to him by the system in the future."

Omaro says he is proud of the role his father had in creating the first permanent mosque on P.E.I. (Submitted by Omaro Sefau)

As a member of the Muslim community, Sefau saw issues and brought about change.

In 2009, Sefau told CBC a lack of mosques was driving immigrants away. He went on to help build one of the first mosques on the Island.

"I am so proud of what he achieved and looking into the future so many Muslims who are going to be coming to Prince Edward Island are going to be able to proudly practise their faith, you know, because of his efforts," he said.

"It is really honestly sublime."

Even in sickness, Omaro said his father was a busy family man. He would come home right after work and drive all the boys to various sports events and tutoring.

"He had a lot of patience, but you know that is really a testament of how much he loved us and how much he cared for us."

Omaro said on behalf of his family he wants to thank Islanders for supporting the family through their loss.

"Islanders are truly a one of a kind people," he said. "The support has been quite touching and heartwarming."

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