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New cancer society president enjoying life in Detroit Lakes

From the time he was a small child, Khaled Zreik knew he wanted to be a doctor.

"Since I was five years old, I've had an interest in helping people," says the Detroit Lakes physician, who purchased a home on Muskrat Lake with his wife, Fatme, in June 2008.

More specifically, Zreik was drawn to caring for people with cancer. Though reluctant to speak of it at first, Zreik admits his career choice was determined, in part, by a personal loss.

"My mother died of cancer -- ovarian cancer --when I was a child," he says.

Though he had initially considered entering the field of obstetrics and gynecology (often referred to as an "obgyn" specialist), Zreik found that field not so much to his liking. Instead, the young doctor discovered an interest in surgery.

"I have a great interest in surgical oncology," he says.

The Lebanon native received his Master of Science and Medical Degree at the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon.

Though he had initially considered becoming a neurosurgeon, Zreik opted to do an internship in general surgery at the American University of Beirut, and completed his residency in general surgery at Waterbury Hospital (an affiliate of Yale University) in Waterbury, Connecticut.

"I like to do all types of general surgery -- I didn't want to sub-specialize," he says of his chosen career path.

It was while he was completing his residency that he was approached by a recruiter from Innovis Health in Fargo, about an opening for a surgeon in the Detroit Lakes clinic.

"I spoke with Dr. (George) Portilla about the practice, and decided to come in for an interview," he said. That was last spring. By June, he and his wife had purchased a home in Detroit Lakes and made the move from Connecticut.

Zreik officially began his duties at St. Mary's Innovis Health on July 14, focusing on laparoscopic colon surgeries, endoscopy, hernias and surgical oncology.

So far, it's been a very good fit for himself and his wife, Fatme, who welcomed their first child, daughter Yasmin, in October.

"She was born here in Detroit Lakes," he says. The young family has no plans to move anytime soon.

"We like the area, we like the people, I like the practice," he said, noting that his colleagues at St. Mary's Innovis Health have been very welcoming, and Dr. Portilla has been a good mentor for him.

In fact, when Dr. Knute Thorsgard, another local colleague, decided to step down as president of the Becker County chapter of the American Cancer Society this past year, he recommended that Zreik take the position.

Dr. Portilla, who was president of the local chapter for many years, encouraged him to accept as well.

"I always wanted to be a member of the American Cancer Society," said Zreik, who became president of the chapter at the beginning of January.

Though he helps many cancer patients through his work at the clinic and hospital, Zreik says ACS is more involved with the humane and social aspects of the disease.

"It's another dimension of helping people, beyond just giving them medical treatment," he explains.

As president of the Becker County ACS chapter, Zreik will be involved with the local Relay for Life fund-raiser as well as a variety of other charitable projects.

"Whoever takes this position has to be really involved (in the chapter)," he says, noting that he looks forward to the chance to give back to a community that has been very welcoming to his family.

"We have been surprised by the kindness of the people here," he says. As an example, when his SUV slid into the ditch during a recent snowstorm, several cars stopped by the road to give him assistance.

"I was surprised by how many people stopped to help -- that was very nice," he said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454