The Story of American Immigrants from An Ethiopian Perspective

Ethiopian American heart surgeon and entrepreneur Dr. Lishan Aklog, with his wife (R) as well as his mother, son and sister (L) rings the opening bell for his company's Nasdaq IPO, April 2016. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: March 9th, 2017

New York (TADIAS) — Who knew that when Dr. Lishan Aklog, CEO and co-founder of the publicly traded company PAVmed Inc., fled a brutal communist regime at age 13 and immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia nearly four decades ago along with his teenage sister he would one day become the youngest heart surgeon ever to join the faculty at Harvard University (his alma mater), or ring the opening bell in honor of his company’s Nasdaq initial public offering (IPO).

Like many of their peers in our community Lishan and his sister sought refuge as they ran away from a government sponsored deadly campaign called “red terror” in Ethiopia. Their father Dr. Aklog Habte-Michael was the first Ethiopian cardiologist serving in Ethiopia, while their mother Professor Almaz Eshete, who also attended Harvard, was Ethiopia’s first woman to receive a graduate degree.

Reflecting on his mother’s journey as a foreign graduate student in 1956 Lishan tells the women’s health website EmpowHER.com that “you can imagine what some of the issues in this country were to have this petite little African woman from the small, poor country in Boston and at Harvard to get a graduate eduction.” He adds: “I think about that and I am just absolutely amazed at what she has accomplished over the years, going back home and being again, the first woman to have her graduate education and to be one of the first professors at the university. She really became an international figure in child development..It’s an amazing inspiration for us.”

Regarding his father Dr. Lishan said: He “came from a very humble background. Earned his way through western school..just sheer work and brains and ended up getting a medical degree..and then he did his residency in the U.S. and then went back [to Ethiopia] and became one of the leading physicians for, you know, 40 years.”

In an article published this week in the Wall Street Journal, Lishan reflected on his immigrant experience in the United States amid the current backlash against refugees and immigrants in the Trump era. “Among the torrent of images in January after President Trump signed his first executive order on immigration, one photo resonated with me. It was a joyful scene: volunteers from a synagogue in Glencoe, Ill., cheerily welcoming a family of Syrian refugees — one of the last to be accepted — at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport,” Lishan wrote. “Thirty-eight years ago, a nearly identical scene played out at the same airport, perhaps in the same terminal. Pastor Gerald Nelson and congregants of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill., welcomed two teenagers fleeing violence: my sister and me.”

Lishan added: “Two days earlier in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, dozens of members of a proud extended family had gathered at the airport as our parents, Prof. Almaz Eshete and Dr. Aklog Habte-Michael, tearfully told us farewell. Our family had suffered greatly under the Red Terror of the Soviet-backed tyrant, Mengistu Haile-Mariam. Fathers were imprisoned, sons were ‘disappeared’ or summarily executed, and children were roused from their bed by soldiers. Our parents had found a way to send us to a life of freedom in America… we arrived to a joyful welcome at O’Hare. Soon we were enjoying apple pie at Poppin’ Fresh Pies on the way to our new families. That’s how my American journey began — with a slice of apple pie.”

“After a rewarding career as an academic heart surgeon, I caught the entrepreneurial bug,” Lishan explained. “Two friends (descendants of Irish, East European and Filipino immigrants) and I founded five medical-device companies. Last April, that immigrant boy who peered out of the jet rang the Nasdaq opening bell with his immigrant family and colleagues at his side. Minutes later, we stood in Times Square, filled with awe and humility as images of our new company streamed on the sides of skyscrapers. I had just one thought: “This is our America.”


Dr. Lishan Aklog is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PAVmed Inc. (Nasdaq: PAVMU), a multi-product medical device company bringing innovative medical technologies from concept to commercialization with unprecedented speed and capital efficiency. (Courtesy photo)


Dr. Lishan poses for a photo with his family and colleagues in Times Square, NYC, after he rang the opening bell in honor of his company’s Nasdaq initial public offering (IPO) on April 28, 2016. (Courtesy photo)

In addition to Dr. Lishan, PAVmed was founded and is led by two other successful medical device entrepreneurs: Dr. Brian deGuzman, a prominent Harvard-trained cardiothoracic surgeon and a leader in medical device innovation, and Michael Glennon a medical device industry veteran and former senior executive in outsourced medical device manufacturing.

Per Bloomberg: “Dr. Aklog has received numerous awards and is a perennial honoree in Castle Connolly’s, America’s Top Doctors. Dr. Aklog has taken a keen interest in health care policy and medical device innovation. As a member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee and Speaker Pelosi’s Speaker’s Cabinet, he has the opportunity to advise members of Congress on health care policy, focusing on cost effective, quality delivery of high-cost, high-technology therapies.”

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