‘My mentor told me to choose something easier’

Najib: “I knew from a young age that I wanted to become a medical professional, but when I told my mentor at pre-vocational secondary education, she told me to choose something easier. That inspired me to work hard and achieve my goal. After laboratory school, I did a bachelor’s degree in biomedical laboratory research with a specialization in clinical chemistry and hematology. There I came into contact with the profession of cardiovascular perfusionist. That became my dream and it came true: as a perfusionist I ensure that blood circulation and heart and lung function are taken over by equipment during operations. My work is in the areas of cardiac surgery, oncology, organ donation and intensive care. For example, I work for Covid patients in the ICU, whose lungs or heart no longer function. I am a partner in a partnership that works in hospitals throughout the Netherlands. My regular work locations are Zwolle and Breda, but I also work elsewhere. That’s why I live very centrally, in Utrecht.

“I work about 60 to 70 hours per job, but 100 hours also happen. It is very irregular work. For example, I may be called for emergency surgery. Or if a second operating team is needed, even though I’m not on duty. So my phone is always on. When I’m on duty, I usually sleep in the hospital. Once a month I have weekend shifts and I have approximately two on-call shifts per week. So I can never estimate how long my working week will last. But that’s part of it, it makes the work dynamic. I also provide clinical training at home and abroad. Last year, we talked about a new generation of heart-lung machines to colleagues in Turkey.”

“My parents are from Morocco, I was born in Enschede, where my father worked in the textile industry. As a family we have often been to Morocco and three years ago a new dream arose: to bring the heart-lung care that we can offer in the Netherlands to Morocco. It is much less developed there than here and not accessible to the poor. I founded the Qalb Foundation for this purpose. This supports a team of twelve to fifteen doctors, paramedics and nurses, who travel to Morocco in varying compositions two to three times a year to perform free operations. Typically a mission lasts six to eight days, during which we perform two to three open heart surgeries per day.


“It is much harder work than here. The gratitude of the patients gives us the motivation to carry out the hard work. The care is paid for through donations to the foundation, we receive materials from the industry and Dutch hospitals also offer supplies.

“My environment often says ‘think about your rest’, but I get a lot of energy from my work. I enjoy being a crucial part of open heart surgery and I want to do something for people who can only dream of such a procedure. I relax by exercising every day and I also relax with my loved ones. I also have seven weeks of vacation a year. Then I like to travel, I have already visited thirty countries. Getting to know new cultures broadens my view of life. But I prefer to stay in a hotel with a gym and a hammam, because just like at home, I want to do fitness during my holiday. But in Jordan I also slept in a tent in the desert.

“We used to go to Morocco as a family for six weeks and spend one week camping on the beach. A tent, a campfire, grilling fish, those are my fondest childhood memories. Even the journey there, in a primitive van, was fun and enjoyable. Wash yourself in the toilet of a gas station and spend the night in a sleeping bag next to the car. I still have that sober side… My favorite destination now is Dubai: it is quiet, safe, you can eat halal and you can go to the mosque. Faith also offers me peace. I see every day how finite life is. My motto in life is: what do you leave behind on earth?

Pampering parents

“I spend money on the gym, on traveling and on spoiling my parents. If they want to travel, I immediately book something for them. Istanbul for example. My mother likes to watch Turkish series and enjoys visiting places from such series. Last year I made the trip from Morocco to the Netherlands with them by car, with stops in Bordeaux and Paris. Nice hotel, good food, all things we couldn’t afford before, because we wanted to go to Morocco quickly and because there was no money for it, with seven children. My father came to the Netherlands to give us better opportunities. That is why I have taken advantage of all the opportunities I have been given. It makes me sad that quite a few Moroccan young people do not seize those opportunities. But I am also proud of the many who do this.

“I’m alone now, but I really want a family life. And I want to give something back to my parents’ country by growing the Qalb Foundation into a large organization that can help many people. But my future lies in the Netherlands: when I am in Morocco, after three weeks I crave a peanut butter sandwich and Albert Heijn.”