Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.
Our story today features Dr. Asgi Fazleabas, University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University, and a renowned expert in female reproduction.
Asgi is recognized world-wide for his outstanding contributions to ‘Women’s Health’. His service to the scientific world has been most significant through his research, major leadership positions in scientific communities, serving on ‘Federal Grant Review’ panels, and a frequent recipient of ‘National Institute of Health (NIH)’ grants. Asgi may be a passionate scientist with an illustrious career, but he has his priorities set right. As he says time and again: “The most important thing to me is my family, and most importantly my wife: who is my anchor; my best friend; and my companion; who keeps me on the straight and narrow, and our two kids. Papers get rejected, grants get rejected, but you go home and you get a hug, and everything is all great”.
Asgi grew up in Columbo, in the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. His father was a leading ‘Ear, Nose and Throat’ surgeon and both him and his mother instilled the value of education from an early age. His father hoped Asgi would follow in his footsteps, but Asgi had a thirst for ‘new’ and ‘different’: “I did not want to be pigeonholed into an area of specialization, so I ended up deciding that a career in science would be more fun than going to medical school”.
He became interested in reproductive biology in 8th grade, at St. Thomas boarding school, located in the beautiful Highlands of Sri Lanka. His responsibilities on the school farm included monitoring the incubator, where chicken eggs were laid to hatch. He was fascinated by the rapid pace of blood vessel development, and detecting a heartbeat within a few days. The more he learned about fertilization and early embryo development, the more “hooked” he was on reproductive biology.
ARRIVAL IN THE US
After three years of undergrad studies in Sri Lanka, he arrived in the US to finish that degree in 1974. This was followed by an impressive academic resume: a graduate degree in 1976; a PH.D in 1980; and postdoctoral training in 1983. As a full Professor by 1995, his impact on students continues to resound today, in the hallways of countless Universities and Hospitals.
In 2009, he joined Michigan State University (after 26 years at the University of Illinois, Chicago) as the Professor and Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Director of the Center for Women’s Health Research, and Codirector of the Reproductive and Developmental Sciences Program. This move was the culmination of an impressive career, with breakthrough achievements and key discoveries in ‘Women’s Health’. These have significantly helped women dealing with infertility, and provided hope for Endometriosis, an enigmatic disease that affects over 175 million reproductive aged women worldwide.
Asgi married Sherebanu in December 2001, after a long acquaintance, and reconnection in 2020. This was the beginning of the happiest years of Asgi’s life. The marriage has resulted in a thriving partnership, producing two beautiful children and travel adventures in over 90+ countries.
Asgi and Sherebanu’s union has resulted in an exciting career for Sherebanu. As President, she established her award winning boutique travel company, A&S Signature Journeys, soon after their marriage in 2001. She offers 30 years of experience to travel agents in the U.S. market, building customized vacations that are rich in history, culture and culinary explorations. Her enthusiasm for travel has led her to every corner of the globe, in search of exhilarating destinations, often accompanied by Asgi and later their children.
Admirably, the tours are designed to give back to local communities and conservation projects. One such project is the Faith Foundation in Rwanda. Clients visit the school located in a small village by the Ruhengiri mountains, whose main source of income comes from the Gorilla Safaris. Faith Foundation supports the children in the area with meals, education and jobs.
A new project is the ‘Mara Meeru’ Cheetah Conservation Center, in the Mara in Kenya.
For all his achievements, Asgi is a humble man!
His breakthrough work for the past 25 years, utilizing the ‘Baboon’ as a non-human primate model, has allowed for significant discoveries and applications towards endometriosis, fertility treatments and pregnancy in humans.
He is widely known as the consummate collaborator and has readily shared his research findings, and biological specimens with scientists around the world. He has also presented at over 240 invited talks globally.
Not only has he published over 200 scholarly works in prestigious journals, but his laboratory is an intellectually stimulating training ground for undergraduate, graduate and medical students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists.
He is the recipient of over 25 prestigious awards, in recognition of his significant contributions to the improvement of women’s lives and health. The award that means the most to him is yet to come, in November of this year, from his home country of Sri Lanka. He is one of 6 winners of the 2022 Sri Lanka Foundation ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. Awards are given to individuals for ‘extraordinary’ achievement, who have impacted the quality of life of Sri Lankans in the US and around the world, and made ’Mother Lanka proud’.
This brings full circle the fulfilling journey of a 13 year old boy, who discovered his life’s vocation, ’candling’ chicks in an incubator, over 55 years ago in the Highlands of Sri Lanka.
“My parents instilled in me from a very young age that when you are more fortunate than others, you have to give back. Being of service to the community and fellow human beings is an important aspect of being an individual. This upbringing has carried over into my career. Being able to serve the scientific community that nourishes and sustains me, means being involved in advocacy for reproductive rights, and training the next generation of scientists”.
DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your thoughts and comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’firstname.lastname@example.org’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous).
A. What has been your evolution during your life journey in the US?
B. What life lesson/insight have you gleaned from Asgi’s story?
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