Syrian-born physician brothers call Montana “home”
Story and photos by St. James Healthcare
January 26, 2016
Home is where the heart is, and for Syrian-born physician brothers, Hassan and Marwan Massouh—“home” is southwest Montana. Hassan Massouh, MD has worked as a practicing radiologist in Helena and Butte since 2004. He was recently joined by his younger brother, Marwan Massouh, a medical oncologist/hematologist who began practicing at the St. James Healthcare Cancer Center in Butte in September of 2015.
The brothers’ decades-long journey to southwest Montana began more than 6,600 miles away in their native Syria. Though the American West may seem like an unlikely destination, both physicians agree that their parent’s emphasis on education, strong family values and Christian faith were paramount in their finding their way to the United States, and ultimately to St. James Healthcare in Butte.
According to Marwan, their parents met while students at Damascus University in the 1950s. His father, Ramez, was studying biology and chemistry, and his mother, Asma, was studying literature. The couple was married in 1956 and both worked as educators, until Asma left the workforce to concentrate on raising children. (Hassan, 58, and Marwan, 56, have two younger siblings; a sister, Masha, who is a school principal in Cleveland, Ohio; and a brother, Naji, who is a lawyer in Manhattan, NY.)
With the long history of political instability in Syria aside— the Massouh brothers said that during their formative years their family kept its focus on three things: education, family and their Christian faith. “My father was a prominent educator in our country,” said Hassan.
“We also have a long (Maronite) Catholic tradition within our family,” added Marwan, explaining that their extended family have had a member serving in the priesthood of this Eastern rite Catholic Church dating back, almost consistently, for 600 years. Marwan added that his Aunt Julia is a nun who was an administrator in the Catholic school system in Lebanon.
Overall, the Massouh brothers agree that their childhood memories were primarily positive.
“We spent happy summers in the mountains and swam in the rivers,” Marwan recalled, setting the stage for their attraction to Montana’s mountains and rivers. Marwan said that the family had previously lived in the United States during 1968, while their father attended college here, but that they had returned to Syria for the rest of their education and upbringing.
With parental support and encouragement, Hassan and Marwan both chose to pursue careers in medicine—completing medical school in Syria before continuing their education in the United States. With extended family in Ohio, they gravitated toward the Midwest to complete their medical training and begin their careers. “You go where your family is,” Hassan said.
Hassan first visited Montana while on a ski trip in 1989.
“I was the one who started the Montana craze,” he said, laughing. Trips to Montana became a regular vacation destination. Though he’d spent most of his life in an urban setting, Hassan totally embraced the western way of life. He continued to ski, tried hunting and even learned to ice fish and fly fish.
Lured by the Montana mystique, his wife, Donna, encouraged him to leave Ohio in 2004, to move closer to where he loved to recreate. “I’ve been bugging my brother to come here ever since,” Hassan said.
Like Hassan, Marwan’s first trips to Montana were on vacations, when he visited his brother and his family. “My kids loved it,” he said. Marwan obtained a license to practice medicine in Montana in 2007 and has been waiting for an opportunity to relocate since then.
“The opportunity came up this year, so I took it,” he said. With his kids, who live with his former wife in Cleveland, nearing the end of high school, he said “the timing was right.”
Marwan is happy with his decision to relocate to Butte. “I love the city. Everywhere I go I feel welcome,” he said. Working in the same community with his brother again, is also a plus.
“We’ve always been close,” he said.
And with overlapping specialties of interventional radiology and medical oncology, the two will be seeing plenty of each other, both in and out of the work place.
Both physicians are also excited about the ongoing expansion of the St. James Healthcare Cancer Center and its services and what that means for local patients needing cancer care. Phase I of the expansion included the addition of a new linear accelerator used in radiation therapy, and was completed in March of 2015.
“With expanding treatment options, patients won’t have to go to other medical centers,” Hassan said.
“We have an excellent framework to do what is done in most major medical centers and offer it to patients under one roof, making the quality of life for patients, better,” Marwan added.
Barbara Nawrocki, oncology service line director is thrilled to have Marwan Massouh on board.
“We’re benefitting from his experience and affiliation with the Cleveland Clinic, which is one of the top hospitals in the nation for cancer care,” she said. Nawrocki said that Marwan Massouh’s transition into patient care has gone smoothly and his arrival is just in time for Phase II of the Cancer Center’s ongoing expansion, slated to begin in February. Phase II will involve renovations and the addition of private treatment areas within the chemotherapy infusion area.
Hassan Massouh, MD graduated from Damascus University School of Medicine in 1980. He completed a one year residency in surgery at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio—part of the Cleveland Clinic Health System—in 1981. He completed a three-year residency in diagnostic radiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland in 1985, followed by a one-year fellowship in interventional radiology at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, NY.
His professional experience in practice includes almost 20 years in the Cleveland area before relocating to Montana 11 years ago. He spent five years at St. John and Lake Shore Hospital; ten years at Fairview General Hospital of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, where he was head of vascular and interventional radiology; and three years at Hillcrest Hospital. He came to Montana in 2004 as a partner in Montana Interventional & Diagnostic Radiology Specialists, PLLC and has worked in Butte and Helena ever since. He lives in Clancy, Mont. with his wife, Donna. They have two adult children: a daughter, Alia, who works as a chemical engineer in Salt Lake City; and a son, Alan, who is attending medical school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Marwan Massouh, MD graduated from Damascus University School of Medicine in 1982. He completed his residency in internal medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1988. He completed a Fellowship in hematology and oncology at the University Hospitals of Cleveland- Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine—in Cleveland, Ohio in 1991. His professional experience in practice spans almost 25 years in the Cleveland area and includes ongoing service at St. John Medical Center, University Hospitals Health System; and Fairview General Hospital of the Cleveland Clinic Health System before coming to St. James Healthcare in September of 2015. He lives in Butte, and has two children, a son, Philip, and a daughter, Claire., both of whom are attending high school in Cleveland.