Meet Cleveland Clinic’s pediatric heart surgeon by day, taekwondo champion by night

CLEVELAND, Ohio - A pediatric heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital has not only been awarded for what he does in the surgery room, but also for what he does in his spare time.

The Clinic is known for having impressive doctors and department heads, but one surgeon in particular really knows how to make people say, “Wow”.

Meet Dr. Hani Najm!

Dr. Hani Najm has been the chair of Congenital and Pediatric Heart Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital since 2016. He also serves in leadership roles for numerous heart and surgery societies across the Middle East, Asia and Europe. He has been given an endless amount of awards for the more than 5,000 open heart operations he successfully performed. Dr. Najm says he decided to become a pediatric heart surgeon through his training with adult heart surgery.

“Congenital heart surgery demands high technical skills and an incredible amount of decision making that may change the entire course of a child’s life,” he says.

Impressive, right? Well, prepare to be mind blown because on top of his medical awards, this husband and father of three, also holds five black belts in taekwondo. Yes, five black belts.

Dr. Najm started taekwondo when he was in high school in Saudi Arabia, but he says he really started to excel right as he was starting medical school. So for part of his life he was balancing medical school on top of 6 days of taekwondo a week.

He clearly balanced it well, though, because not only did he graduate second in his class at medical school but he also went on to win Saudi Arabia’s National Championship three years in a row. He was also a coach, an international referee, and President of the Taekwondo Federation. He never lost a match.

“Every time I went in with full thrusts, I was always prepared mentally physically and my soul was into it,” Dr. Najm said.

It’s that mental and physical preparation that Dr. Najm says prepared him to be the surgeon he is today because both use mind, body and soul.

“We go through important planning and important preparation for surgery just as we do for taekwondo,” Dr. Najm said. “You have to think so fast in both, and a fraction of a second matters so much.”

Even though we’re not all black belts in taekwondo Dr. Najm says it’s important to keep some type of workout in your routine.

“You have to maintain your physical fitness all throughout your phases of your life,” he says. “That allows you to sleep well, think well and concentrate better and these things we need in order to produce.”

It’s that nurturing manner that makes Dr. Najm so great to work with.

“He’s a very positive person and he’s a very self-help person,” said Jennifer Zimmerman, the Administrative Program Coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic. “He tries to look for the best in everything and I think taekwondo had a very big part of that.”

So Dr. Najm is positive and he’s clearly great at his job. But some advice? Just don’t mess with him!

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