As the eldest son of a Kurdish family that fled persecution in Syria, Dr. Heval Mohamed Kelli knows struggle. After living in German refugee camps for six years, his family immigrated to the United States two weeks after 9/11 and settled in one of the Atlanta area ’s poorest communities.
“We moved to Clarkston — I was 17 and a high school senior,” he said. “My dad, who’d been a lawyer in Syria, had heart disease and couldn’t work. I got a job at a local restaurant to support my parents and younger brother.”
For 30 to 40 hours a week, Dr. Kelli washed dishes at the Mediterranean Grill. Many customers were students from nearby Emory University, and seeing them stoked his desire to go to college and become a doctor. But the absence of role models made that seem a distant dream.
“No doctors lived in Clarkston,” he said. “The only time medical professionals came to my neighborhood was when someone got shot or had a heart attack. How could a kid like me become a doctor?”
The answer came when his brother, who had earned an academic scholarship to a private high school, told a classmate of Dr. Kelli’s ambitions. The friend’s father was Dr. Omar Lattouf, a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor at Emory. He offered to be Dr. Kelli’s mentor, and that act of altruism transformed his life.
Today, Dr. Kelli is a cardiology fellow at Emory, affiliate faculty at the Georgia State University School of Public Health, and co-founder of Young Physicians Initiative (YPI), which provides career guidance to students at underserved high schools and at colleges that lack medical programs. Participants learn theory, study medical cases and shadow doctors. Sponsored by U-beyond Mentorship – which Dr. Lattouf founded – YPI also hosts Doctor for a Day events.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on September 27