Heart doctor discusses misconceptions about native country’

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A large, framed photograph of a sugar-white beach and bright, turquoise water hangs in the waiting room at Selma Heart Institute, PC.

At first glance, this beach could be any where in the world. The Mediterranean architecture and distinctive landscape call to mind Italy or Greece.

Dr. Seydi V. Aksut understands the comparisons.

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“Beautiful, beautiful,” Aksut said as he walked past an oversized photograph of Istanbul’s ancient skyline. “You have to go to Turkey.”

Turkey is a country of dualities. It straddles the line between Europe and the Middle East, and it is a Muslim country with Christian roots. Turkey is a secular country, which means it is the only Muslim country in the world without a state religion.

“It’s atypical for a Middle Eastern country,” said Joe Frazier, assistant professor of history at Judson College. “We tend to think Turkey is the same as the rest of the Middle East, and it’s really not.”

Aksut moved from Turkey to the United States when he was 35-years-old. He was already a board-certified cardiologist in his native country, but he started all over when he arrived in the United States.

He attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. For some, the work would have been redundant and boring. Aksut did not mind though.

“When I landed in ’86, I kissed the ground,” Aksut said.

He joined the residency program at the UAB/Selma Family Medicine Center, and in 2001, opened a clinic on Medical Center Parkway. For 13 years, Aksut did not return to Turkey.

He never forgot his country though. He is reminded of it every day when he enters his office.

When patients see framed stories from Turkish newspapers or photographs of early-Christian ruins, patients often ask him questions. Askut talks endlessly about the language, food, architecture and people of Turkey. He wants people to know it is not just another Middle-Eastern religious state.

“Turkey is a very secular country,” Askut said. “Not much different than America.”

More people are figuring this out, too. Around 30 millions tourists visited Turkey in 2008. They eat locally grown olives and fresh feta cheese, visit ancient ruins and lay on sandy beaches that sit at the foot of steep mountains.

“Tourism is a major industry,” Askut said.

Istanbul is a must see, Askut said. The city, which was once known as Constantinople, is the second largest in the country. Its buildings are a blend of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.

“Istanbul is the history,” Askut said. “Thousands of years.”

Aksut misses his homeland from time to time, but he would not trade his life in America. He came a long way from a small, Turkish village where he herded sheep to operating a heart clinic in Alabama.

His clinic is one of only two in the region with a 3-D echocardiography machine. The machine allows Aksut to take a closer look at a 3-D image of a patient’s heart.

When it comes to the human heart, there are not many gray areas. No dualities like in the country where Aksut grew up. The heart either beats or it does not beat.

“Cardiology, I saw as very clean, very helpful,” Aksut said. “People die honorably. You either save or you die.”