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Fellow Spotlight: Marc-Alain Babi, MD

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Marc-Alain “Ali” Babi, MD, is the subject of this week’s Fellow Spotlight. In this interview, Babi talks to us about life on three different continents, how acute neurocritical care satisfies his intellect and personality, and how he learned to hold his breath for more than five minutes.

You’ve gone by several nicknames in your past. What name do you currently go by? Can you tell me more about your background?
So my official name is written in my passport as “Marc-Alain Babi”, but I have been known under several names; including previously “Mohamed-Ali”, M-Ali, and Ali. People around me and family simply call me “Ali” and that’s how I am known here. During high school and med school, I used to go by “Bobby” (from my last name). I didn’t do this to create any confusion; that simply speaks up to the different cultural backgrounds that my family encompasses; and the different countries and regions I lived in. I am born in Nice, France, and I lived most of my life in south-eastern France. I moved to Qatar with family in 2002 and I spent several years there. Then I moved to New York and eventually Vermont before coming to North Carolina. My wife is from Bosnia-Hercegovina (eastern Europe) and our daughter is born in Vermont… We usually speak three languages at home during our routine life (French, English, and Bosnian) but sometimes mix in more as well.

How did you get interested in neurology? What drew you to the neurocritical care fellowship?
I have always been fascinated by the human brain early on. During medical school; some of my mentors were a big influence in further growing my interest in neurology. I had the opportunity then to work as a teacher assistant in neurology during the early years of medical school for several months and pretty much then I knew I would choose that as a career. During my residency I really became interested in acute care neurology; I’m also a fast-paced person and this type of care meshed well with my personality. So pretty much by the end of my first year of neurology, I had decided on neurocritical care. There is nothing more gratifying than taking care of the sickest patients in the hospital, while at the same time working with the smartest folks from different disciplines. I have also had a pretty strong neurocritical care exposure during my residency training (given how my former program was structured) and mentors during residency were also a strong influence that further drew additional interest in neurocritical care.

What are your responsibilities within the Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
As a fellow, we have different clinical, academic and administrative duties. Clinically, our main role in the neuroscience ICU is that we lead clinical rounds in reviewing the day-by-day intricate plans of our patients’ care. We also mentor and supervise medical students and residents and perform select procedures on our patients. In addition, we intermittently rotate with the attendings in triaging transfers and outside calls, basically prioritizing and deciding who is appropriate to be admitted to the intensive care unit. Administratively, I am involved in coordinating neurocritical care lectures to the neurology residents, and the neurosciences ICU group. I am also involved in several other projects. So in summary, there is no typical day schedule, as it varies by rotations and patients need. But when I’m in the neuroscience ICU, typically the day starts around 6:45 a.m. and ends between 6 and 7 p.m.

What’s been the most memorable experience of your fellowship program so far?
Each day has been unique, but I would say the greatest things are the people you work with. I am truly privileged every day to work with some of the smartest mentors around who at the same time are humble and modest. The level of support here is tremendous, helping you grow into not only a clinician; but a leader in your field. A big thanks goes to all the faculties but also the advanced practice providers (NPs); my co-fellows, and of course the nurses who are the backbone of the neuro ICU.

What are your plans for after you complete your fellowship?
I imagine my career as an academic type of practice, with a balance of both patient care (clinical work) leadership/administrative duties, research and academic work. One of my areas of interest is in education and in quality and benchmark measures, and this is something I intend on continuing as I further mature in my career. There is no typical day-by-day practice or a pure “inpatient” or “outpatient” or mix as each setting differs according to the department but also patient’s population need; so I am pretty flexible in that respect.

How does being a neurologist compare to what you thought it would be in medical school? Do you have one bit of advice you could have told your former self?
There’s not a huge difference, as each stage of my life has been unique, from the geographical locations where I lived to the people I met, and the different practice setting and academic places I have been to. At the end, I think your life experiences shape you into the person you are today. If I could go back 10 or 15 years, I think I would have done the same things over again, but I think the most important part is being passionate in what you are doing!

Do you have any ongoing research projects that you’re working on, either independently or as part of your fellowship program?
I am involved in several projects. Just recently, I had three abstracts accepted to the European Stroke Conference in April. I have been analyzing different outcomes in acute stroke endovascular reperfusion therapies and the different systems of care that can be implanted to these patients. I also recently presented at the Neurocritical Society Meeting in Arizona last October); stroke data analysis from the University of Vermont group; basically analyzing different selection approach to endovascular stroke intervention. I have also been writing several manuscripts and book chapters in the past few months. For example; I have had three publications accepted just in the past two months and several others lined up in the pipelines (mainly case reports).

I also intend on writing up those original research studies up once I acquire further data. In the past six months, I also wrote three book chapters (one on anti-epileptics, one on cerebral venous thrombosis, and one short chapter on hydrocephalus and ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery). I am writing up another book chapter on pediatric cerebrovascular disorder. I am also hosting a research topic in Frontiers of Neurology on intracerebral hemorrhage (open for submission). In addition; I am a reviewer with BMC Neurology; where I review an average of 1-2 manuscripts per week (both case reports and original studies). To top it all, just after I had left the University of Vermont group; I have also been nominated for an honorary membership in the Alpha-Omega-Alpha Society. So basically research is something that I just enjoy in addition to the direct patient’s care.

At the time of this writing, you’re expecting the birth of your second child any day now. What has been your experience with fatherhood so far?
We have been blessed with our three-year old daughter (Elena Marie) and she has been a gracious gift since she came to our life. My wife Nerma; is also my best friend and the most supportive person during medical school, residency, and now fellowship. We are also expecting a baby boy anytime this week; so again very exciting moments.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I’ve had many hobbies depending on the different places I have lived…. though the most important thing is setting priorities and organizing your time, which is important to make anything become possible! As I child I started free-diving,  that is breath-hold diving, at an early age (around 8 years old) along with spearfishing (underwater fishing). Originally that was more so of a group hobby with bunch of my friends in south of France, but then I took it to professional levels, especially in the years 2006 and afterward.

In 2007 and 2008 I traveled to the Red Sea to train with world leaders in apnea diving and became AIDA (International association for free-diving) four-star certified. To get this certification (which is the highest certification other than an actual instructor), you need to do at least a 3 minute 30 second breath-hold, swim 70 meters underwater with fins on a breath-hold and dive to at least 32 meters deep (>100ft). My personal best is 56m deep, and 5 minutes 36 seconds static breath-hold in a swimming pool. I’ve continued to free-dive and spearfish here since I moved to North Carolina.

I can tell you the coast of North Carolina is a pretty rich marine environment, given the many wrecks that make it the “graveyard of the Atlantic,” the proximity of the gulf stream, and the many confluent estuaries and rivers that dump rich fresh water into the ocean. Besides free-diving and spearfishing, I am also a kitesurfer; that is when you use a large power kite to propel you over the water; while riding a board. I also ski (downhill, and cross-country; and did that extensively while in Vermont and New York). I also enjoy long distance road biking, hiking, sea kayaking and sailing.