Dr. Maryam Mehtar
Asthma is the most common lung disease in children and one of the leading causes of school absences. Without access to diagnostic testing and treatment to manage the disease, asthma can reduce a child’s quality of life and can also be life-threatening. Dr. Maryam Mehtar, pediatrician for St. Mary’s Clinic in Saskatoon, dedicates her work to improve children’s access to health and asthma care.
In 2006 the Canadian Journal of Public Health published the Health Disparities by Neighborhood Income Study (Lemstra et al.) which highlighted the extent of existing disparities based on neighborhood income. In order to address some of the inequalities in health care access for children in Saskatoon, St. Mary’s Community Education and Wellness Centre was established the following year. In May of 2007 St. Mary’s became the first in Canada to have an in-school pediatric clinic. The compassionate doctor, wife and mother to three beautiful sons took on a unique role changing history while improving youth access to health care. Access to asthma testing and education to manage the disease was highlighted as an essential need for the community. The Lung Association was the clinic’s first community partner to team up with Dr. Mehtar and continues today to provide spirometry and asthma education at the clinic. “With the involvement of The Lung Association, we are able to empower people through education about asthma enabling them to be in control of their illness,” says Dr. Mehtar.
Born and raised in South Africa, Maryam Mehtar grew up in the small town of Paarl. Maryam’s time in South Africa was during the Apartheid years. She grew up, with limited money, went to school and lived her life in segregated communities – dictated by the laws of the country. The choices she has made throughout her life to overcome the adversity she faced was influenced largely by the lessons and legacy of Nelson Mandela. The world leader once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It was Mandela’s leadership that empowered Maryam to not only learn to forgive others, show grace and practice kindness, but also inspired her to strive towards an education in medicine. Her own lived experiences, mentors and passion for health equity have made her the doctor she is today and for that countless children in our province are breathing a little easier.
“My belief that health, and health care access is a human right was undoubtedly influenced by growing up in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. Every child and youth deserves equitable access to the same standards of health care, irrespective of their families’ income level, their race, culture, or level of education attainment of their families,” says Dr. Mehtar upon reflection.
When asked why she thought it is essential for The Lung Association to raise funds for the Caring Breaths financial assistance program, a program that is intended to reduce the financial burden associated lung disease and provide aid to those left breathless, Dr. Mehtar’s responded with only a few yet powerful words. She simply said, “because it is the right thing to do.” One breath at a time, her passion and dedication has changed the worlds of each and every one of her patients for the better.