The Beginning of a Spiritual Journey

Hi! My full name is Daniel Mohsen Abdulla Hakiem Isaac Khalil Kareem Rapheal Abd El Messiah, but most people call me Danny. I’m a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Emergency Medicine with a minor in Chemistry on the pre-medical track.

If you wondered why my name is so long I have the answer for you. In Egypt, you take your fathers first name as your middle name. So all eight names of mine symbolize a forefather and a generation of inspiration. If you haven’t guessed by now my heritage is paramount to me. Both my father and mother emigrated to the United States from Egypt in hopes of a better life for themselves and their kids. More specifically, a break from the religious persecution of Coptic Orthodoxy in a pre-dominantly Muslim country. Furthermore, rather than just a name commonality, we also have a tattoo in common. A black and blue Coptic Orthodox stamped in mine and all forefathers’ right wrists. A symbol that resembles the strength of a silent minority, who never ceased in proclaiming their heart felt beliefs.

After they emigrated to the US, my sister and I were both born in New York City while my dad was finishing his residency as a doctor. As fates had it my parents moved many times until settling in Peters Township, a municipality in the suburbs of South Pittsburgh. This is where I developed a love for Pittsburgh, but more specific Oakland. This led me to coming to the University of Pittsburgh for my undergraduate degree.

Initially, I came into Pitt as a Neuroscience and Psychology major on the pre-med track. However, after taking an EMT class my freshman year I found myself gravitating towards EMS. This experienced pushed me to become an Emergency Medicine major, allowing me to gain over 500+ hours of clinical experience in the hospital (ER, OR, Psyc ER, etc.) and ambulance on my way to finishing my junior year and my Nationally Registered Paramedic certification. This major has been critical in my development academically and personally, allowing me to develop and become a whole new person: calm under pressure, confidence in myself, and able to hurdle any obstacle in my path of life.

So this brings us to now, the end of my junior year and the beginning of my time in Berlin. There were a multitude of reasons I chose the IIP in Berlin, but to explain I’ll walk you through my thought process. First, I wanted to travel with other Pitt students, so I had to choose a Panther Program. Next, I had to ask myself whether I wanted an internship or to take classes abroad because no research was being offered due to Covid (ironically). Then I chose an internship. Being implemented into the work force made me believe I’d be better assimilated into the German culture and have a greater impact. So now I had to choose whether I’d have to study in Dublin or Berlin because I did not speak any foreign languages well enough to study abroad with them. To be frank, I would’ve been happy ending up in either placement. However, I chose Berlin. My thought process was that I would have greater opportunities in Berlin pertaining to my profession of Medicine and I guessed right! Somehow…

With the help of Intrax and Britta Kallmann I got extremely lucky and ending up getting a research internship studying inflammatory cardiomyopathy at the Charite Hospital with Dr. Heidecker. I hope to obtain a greater understanding of the human body, but more specifically the heart. Being a paramedic my favorite part of the job is reading 12-lead EKGs, a very specific picture of the heart captured by electrical flow through the electrodes. It’s simply, an art. No two hearts are the same, no 12-lead or electrical capture is the same, and piecing the clinical presentation of the patient with its reading is also an art, which I hope to perfect one day. Furthermore, I hope to gain greater skills in research: reading and writing scientific papers, learning and optimizing protocols, and developing interprofessional communication skills.

Luckily before this program I’ve had a great amount of research experience. First, in the summer of my rising freshman year of college I was in the Hillman Cancer Academy at the University of Pittsburgh Immunology department, studying potentials for tumor immunotherapy. With Andrea Workman, a mentor in Dr. Kane’s lab, I conducted an independent research project on gene, Tim-3‘s, applicability towards tumor immunotherapies, utilizing techniques like Flow Cytometry, ELISAs, and mouse dissection. Furthermore, this love of research pushed me to find research my spring semester of my freshman year of college. I got the opportunity to work in the Dr. Donnelly lab at the University of Pittsburgh studying vector cloning techniques to insert plasmids into genomes creating stable cell lines. Next, after being sent home due to Covid I had the opportunity to work in the Doris Duke Research Internship at the University of Pittsburgh. I was able to complete more work in the Donnelly Lab. With Marilyn Ngo, a mentor in the Donnelly Lab, I conducted an independent research project on gene KIFAP-3’s role in ALS pathology, utilizing techniques like immunofluorescent microscopy, cell culture, siRNA knockdown. All these experiences have built my fundamentals of academia, which I aim to enhance this summer at the Charite.

Along with the EMT class I took my freshman year, I also took a seminar writing class on writing the spiritual. Throughout my exploration of spirituality, I have come to understand that spirituality is a triangle. Spirituality is a three-sided object that is interconnected: religion, non-religion, and achievement. Each side cannot stand without the other, yet one can influence the others. A spiritual moment is one in which the physical body and mind are both 100% focused in the moment, not worrying about anything else.

So this brings me back to my title: The Beginning of a Spiritual Journey. This experience is completely unironically foreign to me: new subjects, new living place, new culture, new language etc. I can’t wait to see how this journey impacts my spiritually.