Nigerian neurosurgeon takes pay cut to perform free operations

Dr. Olawale Sulaiman is a professor of neurosurgery and spinal surgery and chairman for the neurosurgery department and back and spine center at the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute in New Orleans.

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)Neurosurgeons are known as skilled operators. But straddling surgeries across two continents? That's a different skill entirely.

Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, 49, is a professor of neurosurgery and spinal surgery and chairman for the neurosurgery department and back and spine center at the Ochsner Neuroscience Institute in New Orleans. He lives in Louisiana, but splits his time between the US and Nigeria, spending up to 12 days each month providing healthcare in the country of his birth -- sometimes for free.
Born in Lagos Island, Lagos, Sulaiman says his motivation comes from growing up in a relatively poor region.
    "I am one of 10 children born into a polygamous family. My siblings and I shared one room where we often found ourselves sleeping on a mat on the floor," he told CNN.
    Dr. Olawale Sulaiman.
    His parents could not afford his university tuition, but Sulaiman said at the age of 19, he received a scholarship to study medicine in Bulgaria through the Bureau for External Aid, a Nigerian government program targeted at improving the quality of life for Nigeria's most vulnerable communities.
    Sulaiman said the scholarship opened many doors and, in turn, he feels responsible to give back through healthcare. "Africans who have had the privilege of getting outstanding training and education abroad must mobilize their network of influence to transform our continent," he said.
    According to a report by the Global Health Workforce Alliance, Nigeria's healthcare system does not have enough personnel to effectively deliver essential health services to the country's large population.
    Sulaiman says he wants to use his knowledge to improve the healthcare system. "As I often do, I consulted with my loving and devoted wife for advice. We both decided that giving back was the only option for both of us, and for our family. We have never looked back," he added.

    Starting a health company

    In 2010, Sulaiman established RNZ Global, a healthcare development company with his wife, Patricia. The company provides medical services including neuro and spinal surgery, and offers health courses like first aid CPR in Nigeria and the US.