Maha Alchalabi’s Story

As a nephrologist in Iraq, Maha Alchalabi was a kidney specialist who came to Canada in 2014 seeking peace and wanting to practice medicine in this country. But during a visit to her family doctor three years after arriving here, the 54-year-old discovered a problem with her own kidneys. It was cancer, a diagnosis that in her mind presented no clear treatment options until her own research led to an interventional radiologist at Royal Columbian Hospital.

“I was not a good candidate for standard treatments – surgical removal of the kidney or chemotherapy,” says Dr. Alchalabi after a biopsy confirmed the cancer. “I was in a very difficult situation and so I hit the Internet.”

As she searched for solutions online, she read about cryoablation, a minimally-invasive option where special needles placed through the skin freeze and kill certain cancers.

The size of the kidney tumour was much larger than usual, but Dr. Alchalabi felt ‘cryo’ was her last hope. That’s when she was introduced to Dr. Brad Halkier.

“We get excellent results with ablation of smaller kidney tumours – three to four, centimetres in size” explains Dr. Halkier. “But Dr. Alchalabi’s tumour was at least eight times that volume.”

Dr. Alchalabi also had some other chronic health issues that further complicated the situation, and Dr. Halkier debated whether to go ahead.

“I reviewed the case in person with two international experts, both trusted friends and colleagues in the United States,” he says. “They told me it was possible.”

With newfound confidence, Dr. Halkier scheduled the procedure at Royal Columbian, one of only a few cryoablation centres in Canada. The equipment was funded solely through donations to Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation.

Dr. Halkier calls it the most complicated ablation case he’s ever done, due to both the size and location of the tumour. There were some health challenges after the procedure but Dr. Alchalabi stayed resilient and positive. A year later, there is no sign of remaining cancer.

Dr. Brad Halkier

“I learned a lot from this case,” says Dr Halkier. “We were able to treat the cancer effectively and safely. Having a team with the courage, expertise, the equipment to perform these types of cases is such as blessing. I am so grateful to our donors for giving us the tools to push the boundaries for our patients.”

“Dr. Halkier is brave, smart and kind-hearted,” Dr. Alchalabi says. “I name Dr. Halkier as my Earth Angel.”

Patient Stories