Lives of the fellows

Samir Elias Farraj

b.25 November 1932 d.6 July 2017
Hon KCVO(1984) MB BS Lond(1959) MRCS LRCP(1959) MRCP Edin(1969) FRCP Edin(1983) FRCP(1995)

’I had one patient and then he died.’ With this statement, Samir Farraj retired from his illustrious medical career on 7 February 1999 when His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan passed away after a struggle with lymphoma. Farraj was the private physician of the king for 30 years.

Samir Elias Farraj was born in Jordan, the first child of Elias Hishan Farraj and Shafiqa Farraj née Saba. He lived with his parents in Jericho, where his father had a restaurant and a small farm. He had a sister, Samira, and a younger brother, John. At the age of nine, he went to a British boarding school in Jerusalem called Terra Sancta and, after the war of 1948, he lived with his uncle in Amman to finish his high school in the Amman branch of the same school, where he graduated with honours.

He left to go to Egypt to study medicine in Cairo and, after taking the Egyptian high school exam and getting the highest grade in the region and the third in Egypt, he was admitted into medical school, but after one year there, he was accepted for a full Jordanian Army scholarship to study medicine in the UK. So, he left Egypt and pursued his dream of becoming a doctor in London. He qualified from St George’s Hospital in 1959 and went back to Amman to serve in the Jordanian Armed Forces.

In Amman, he met and fell in love with Nuha Jamil Helou, and they married in October 1961. They had their first son, Elias, in 1963. In 1964, he went with his family to London to do a one-year postgraduate dermatology diploma at St John’s Hospital.

In 1966, he had his second son, Rami. After the 1967 war, his parents had to leave their home in Jericho and live with him in Amman. His brother and sister Samira had emigrated to Iowa City, Iowa, USA, but they family remained close.

In 1969 Farraj gained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and, upon his return to the Jordanian Armed Forces, he became the head of the internal medicine department in the Royal Medical Services. He later formed and chaired the first division of dermatology there.

At the end of 1969, King Hussein of Jordan developed a rash and fever. He was seen by many physicians, but Farraj diagnosed him correctly as having adult-onset chicken pox and treated him appropriately. After the doctors sent from London came and confirmed the diagnosis and concurred with the treatment suggested by Farraj, he was asked by His Majesty to become his private physician. Then started a long journey that spanned 30 years and turned into a close and personal friendship that went beyond what most people knew publicly. Farraj would travel with the king wherever he went, on public and private trips, and would organise his medical care in Jordan and abroad.

While in Jordan, Farraj insisted on seeing patients at his clinic at the King Hussein Medical Center and continued his teaching of medical students and residents of dermatology there. He was known for his evidence-based approach at a time when the evidence was frequently hard to obtain and seeking it was not an easy task. He was revered as a great teacher and became an examiner of the Jordanian Board in Dermatology for many decades. He was also a reviewer for many medical journals, and published papers in many local and international publications, including one outlining a new condition – familial histiocytic dermato-arthritis.

He received an honorary knighthood from the Queen and in 1995 was elected as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He continued to work as a consultant dermatologist, as well being the private physician to His Majesty King Hussein until 1999. After the death of the king, he decided to retire. By then, he had reached the rank of first lieutenant general, the highest-ranking doctor in the Jordanian Armed Forces to date.

After his retirement, he stayed away from the public eye, but continued to read medical journals and stay up to date with medical and current events for another decade until he became unable to read due to an eye surgery complication. Samir Farraj died peacefully in his bed at home at the age of 84.

Despite his great achievements, people remember him as a quiet and humble gentleman. His pursuit of excellence and wisdom distinguished him, however, he remained a true family man. He never made an enemy in his life. He will be greatly missed by his wife, two sons, two grandchildren, his family both in Jordan and the United States, and by all his friends.

Rami Farraj

(Volume XII, page web)

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