It was in the biology class at Islamia College that 30-year-old Dr Maryam Fish’s interest in genetics was sparked – now she is part of a trio of women who are behind the discovery of a gene responsible for sudden death among young people and athletes.
The discovery of the CDH2 gene has been described as the biggest breakthrough in South African cardiology since Dr Chris Barnard’s heart transplant almost 50 years ago.
Dr Fish, together with 35-year-old Dr Sarah Kraus and 43-year-old Dr Gasnat Shaboodien, deputy director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT), make up the trio. Dr Shaboodien supervised Dr Fish with Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of Health Sciences at UCT.
On Thursday March 23, Islamia College honoured Dr Fish with a plaque at a special ceremony in the school’s mosque.
Sheikh Sa’dullah Khan, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Islamia College, said it was a privilege for them to honour and celebrate a former pupil of the school for her monumental achievement.
“Dr Fish is someone very unassuming. She wanted to know why all the fuss. She is a humble person – someone ordinary who did the extraordinary. Islamia is proud to welcome her and her family. She dedicated five years of her doctoral thesis on this research. This finding has been hailed as the greatest breakthrough, and it will benefit humanity, enhance the quality of life, and help to save lives,” Mr Khan said.
Speaking directly to Dr Fish during the ceremony, he added: “You have done Islamia, your teachers, UCT, and the country very proud. We salute you. May your achievement inspire every one of us.”
The chairperson of the Islamia College Board of Trustees, Nazier Osman, also extended his congratulations, saying Dr Fish “serves as an ideal example for all pupils, as to what can be achieved if one is dedicated and focussed on greater goals”.
Salama Mohamed, the principal of the girls’ college, was tasked with presenting Dr Fish with the plaque.
Said Ms Mohamed: “For me, this is so significant. We need this type of role model for our Muslim young girls, especially in this day and age.
“Girls must take up their rightful place in society. It doesn’t mean that because you are in hijaab, that it encompasses your brain.”
Dr Fish’s father, Achmat Fish, told the more than 1 000 pupils at Islamia that all knowledge belongs to Allah, and that knowledge is sacred.
“It is up to us to use knowledge wisely,” he added.
When it was her turn to address the pupils, Dr Fish encouraged them to follow their dreams.
“Strive for excellence in whatever you decide to do and always remember your Creator in all that you do,” she added.
She later told the Athlone News that all the attention was overwhelming, but that she was grateful for the school’s acknowledgement.
Dr Washiela Fish, her mother, said all three of their children attended Islamia College and that she is grateful for the “major role” the teachers played in her children’s development.