Hammad Aslam was set to start medical school in Augusta in the fall of 2009 when a car accident almost took his life. But paralysis from the chest down only delayed his plans by one year. Hammad has overcome many obstacles and is now pursuing his doctorate at the Medical College of Georgia.
MH: You overcame a pretty serious life-changing event in your life. Can you tell us more about it and how you overcame it?
I was in a car accident with my family in May of 2009. Our SUV hydroplaned off the road and hit a tree. The tree fell on top of my corner of the vehicle, crushing me under the roof and glass. Thankfully, no one else was seriously hurt. My dad fractured a bone in his forearm and had a small neck injury. My mom had a minor injury to her ribs. My younger sister broke her leg and my youngest sister was untouched. My older brother was away at the time.
I am just blessed to be alive. I received a traumatic brain injury with a skull fracture and bleeding in my brain, nerve damage in my right arm, and a complete spinal cord injury. I spent a few weeks in an unconscious and semi-conscious state. I do not recall anything from this time period and I do not even remember getting into an accident.
I came consciously aware of things a few weeks later. At the time, I was in the traumatic brain injury unit of the Shepherd Center because my brain injury was so severe that the doctors all predicted that I would be permanently inflicted with mental deficits on top of my physical handicaps. I spent a few weeks in that unit before I was transferred to the spinal cord injury unit. I spent three months as an inpatient at the Shepherd Center and continued to come there for therapy for several months after I was discharged and living at home.
MH: How have friends and family helped you overcome some of the challenge you’ve faced?
I had and still have a very strong support system consisting of my family and friends. They have always supported any and all goals I have had. They have been there in my darkest of times, when I have been let down, when I have fallen and when I have failed. Thanks to my family and friends, it has been much easier adjusting to this new life and new circumstances. I was never really allowed to consider myself different from anyone else and I was never really given the time for any self-pity.
My parents and friends never let me feel that I was any different. I knew that I was placed in that situation for a reason. In fact, I was thankful to be the one lying in the hospital bed and not any of my family members or friends.
MH: Did faith play a role in overcoming your challenges, if so, how?
It’s very easy to blame and be angry at God or other people when we are in disadvantageous circumstances. It would have been way too easy to ask, “Why me? Why was I chosen for this?” Instead, I have been thankful. No one else who was in vehicle at the time was seriously injured like me. None of my friends have been injured like this. Thank God. I would never want to see any of them in this situation. I believe there is a reason for everything and that we are given only as much as we can handle. Therefore, I am thankful that I have been put in this situation and not anyone else. I know that this is all part of a plan that none us can foresee and that in the end, things will be alright.
MH: What inspired you to pursue medical school?
I have always wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor. After my accident, though, I knew I wanted this even more. It became even more apparent to me that my true calling was in the relief of the suffering of others. I have suffered a lot and I do not want anyone else to suffer like I have or suffer in their own circumstances, whatever those may be. Medical school was also a big challenge. I knew that people doubted me with many things so I wanted to prove to them—and to myself—that I could do it.
MH: What challenges did you face and have you faced on your road to medical school?
The first challenges in medical school included just adapting to living completely alone. I was stubborn and I somehow convinced my family to allow me to move away to a different city and live by myself, without any roommates or helpers. This was only a year after my accident and I was still adapting to my disabilities. Doing everything in a wheelchair for the first time took longer than I expected.
On top of adapting myself both physically and mentally to these new circumstances, I also found myself struggling in medical school. I was quite timid and had a significant inferiority complex. I felt like everyone was smarter than me. I was afraid to speak up during our discussions. I also found myself studying harder I ever had before and harder than anyone else in my class, but I was barely getting by. This was extremely frustrating and I was very upset about this. But I adapted. I knew I could do this, one way or another, so I adjusted by study habits to study both smarter and harder than ever before.
MH: You certainly have remained active in the Atlanta Muslim community. Tell us more about your work and what motivates you to serve others?
The first year after my accident before I started medical school, I knew I had to do something productive. I knew that it would be selfish of me to try and work hard only for the benefit of myself. So, I decided to immerse myself in different volunteer activities, especially since I wasn’t doing much at home. I knew that doing things in the service of others would in turn benefit me more than anyone else, in both the short and long term.
MH: What advice would you give to others facing the same challenges you’ve faced on pursuing their dreams and goals in life?
First off, I wish and pray that no one faces the same challenges I have faced. That being said, many people face their own challenges in their pursuit for accomplishing the tasks that they plan or of which they dream. As I stated earlier, it is too easy to blame our circumstances on God or on other people. It is too easy to simply accept our circumstances as “just the way God wants them to be”. Instead, I feel like people should not look at different situations as something from God and that must simply be accepted, but these situations should be looked upon as challenges. It is these challenges and the way we react to them—or fail to react to them—that define us.
MH: What advice would you give to those seeking to pursue medical school?
I hear all the time about people who have plans to go to medical school. To these people, I propose that they do some self reflection and contemplate upon why they want to purse this profession. Are they doing this because their parents have been telling them their whole lives that this is a good idea? Are they doing this because they feel like it’s a noble profession? Are they doing this for the job security?
I knew that this was my calling and I knew the disabilities that I had been given would only help me and help others in the long run. Therefore, I was willing to work harder than anyone else I knew.
I suggest others really “get their hands dirty” in terms of learning about this profession. Learn about the ups and downs. Learn about life. Perhaps more importantly, learn about death. I have faced my own mortality and it has given me a completely new perspective on life. It was only after I had almost everything taken away from me that I was able to think clearly.
You can follow Hammad here on his blog: http://mindofhammad.blogspot.com/