Madonna Ashraf Kondos Hafez
Human Biology :: Ursula and Hans Moede Town & Gown Scholar
When the Egyptian revolution boiled over in 2011, Madonna was stranded in Dubai, unable to get back to Cairo and her third year of dental school. She lost seven weeks of study before it was safe to return, she says. “I took the first possible plane to Egypt and found myself just one day before my school midterms. It would have been really easy to surrender to failure since all my professors, school administrators and friends were convinced it would happen. I strived, worked like crazy, focused on my ultimate goal and surprised them all by succeeding with grades no lower than a B+.”
The glow of success quickly faded when, due to her Coptic faith, she was forced to flee Egypt in fear for her life. Landing in California, she couldn’t pay non-resident college fees so she waited, taking an English course at a community college – the only class she could afford on her minimum-wage salary. Fighting cultural shock, depression and anxiety, she ramped up her studies and GPA, and transferred to UC San Diego with honors, starting over on a dental career path.
In Egypt, Madonna had been involved in serving the people living in slums, teaching literacy, providing food, building shelters for those on the streets, providing religious instruction and teaching kids who weren’t able to enroll in schools. “I was helping not only unfortunate people but also the religiously discriminated, and it could have cost us our lives in such terrorist-filled slums.” Since coming to California, Madonna has sought out opportunities to serve the disadvantaged in the healthcare realm, such as cancer outreach in low-income neighborhoods and on UC San Diego Pre-Dental Society missions to Mexico.
Her interest in healthcare is rooted in a chaotic time when she was very young. Her brother and mom had been whisked away to a sterile hospital room, where he could receive and recover from a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. He and his mother passed a full year in the room. Not long after, the family was hit by another crisis when Madonna’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “As a result, I was searching to know more about diseases, the human body and disease etiology.”
Upheaval is a recurring theme in Madonna’s life. Recently, her academic focus took a sharp turn away from dentistry when a school physical suggested a potentially serious medical condition. She was in denial since she was an athlete and an active person, and no one in her family had such issues. As she buried herself in research about her condition, she realized a new purpose: “I shifted gears to be an M.D. instead of a dentist, so I will have the happiness of interacting with patients and feeling that I was able to help.”
Madonna is now taking up archery and continues to “hop onto every community outreach opportunity. I choose to dedicate my life to helping people and hope that at some point I can do something that can totally eliminate diseases, so no one can suffer or see their beloved suffering.”