My love for architecture drew me to the United Arab Emirates. My last visit there was in 2004 where I stayed in Dubai for a week, being mesmerized on the vision its leaders have in developing cities for industries to thrive, locals to live, and tourism to be catered to. I knew that going back nine years later I would not recognize Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Upon telling friends about my trip, their responses were, “You won’t like Dubai, it’s like Vegas or you’ll enjoy Abu Dhabi more than Dubai.” It left me wondering if my whole trip in the UAE would be just Abu Dhabi. I am glad I did not listen. It is nothing like Vegas, where I have been about half a dozen times.
In Dubai, I stayed at the Al Manzil, a 4-star hotel where old world meets new world in the Downtown area, the views from my balcony were The Burj Khalifa and The Address, a stunning hotel/condominium. The juxtaposition of these two buildings rising above The Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard in what is to be the street where the best restaurants and cafes will be home to is an identification of a “New Downtown”. One night after dinner my friends and I walked to The Address, watched the fountain show from their outdoor lounge observing and taking in the views of The Bhurj Khalifa.
I was hesitant visiting “the tallest building in the world.” All these years following its development rising higher and higher I kept thinking of the story my mother taught me as a little girl, “The Towers of Babylon,” and how the people wanted the tower to reach God but He punished the people by creating multiple languages where they know longer could understand each other and the Tower went unfinished. Was this to teach us a lesson of “don’t think to big or dream to big” I don’t know…I do know that God expects from ourselves to raise our standards every single day; to raise the bar on being the best leaders we can be. With this in my heart, I visited The Bhurj Khalifa. What it signified is “nothing in this world is impossible.” There is a world of possibilities as I looked out on the 125th floor to a city that was once desert. It was vision the essence of leadership that made Dubai possible and it is up to us to articulate this vision on each and every occasion. It exemplifies strength and has resonated with me in many ways. How high should we go, as high as we can go?
In Abu Dhabi, I was presenting at a medical conference for a genetic blood disorder, Thalassemia, popularly nicknamed “the Mediterranean Anemia” because mainly Italians, Greeks and Cypriots were carriers of this disease. This is no longer true as Thalassemia has become the fastest growing genetic blood disease in the world with Asia, South East Asia, and the Middle East having staggering numbers of infants being born with Thalassemia. Thalassemia Major or Cooley’s Anemia is the most severe form of beta thalassemia in which the complete lack of beta protein in the hemoglobin causes a life-threatening anemia that requires regular blood transfusions and extensive ongoing medical care. These extensive, lifelong blood transfusions lead to iron-overload which must be treated with chelation therapy to prevent early death from organ failure.
The conference in Abu Dhabi was organized by TIF (Thalassemia International Federation) headquartered in Nicosia, Cyprus and founded by Panos Englezos – along with a group of patients and parents from Cyprus, Greece, UK, Italy and USA in 1986. Mr. Englezos was elected as TIF’s first chairman, and is regarded by the international thalassemia community as its ‘founding Father’. The mission of TIF is the development and establishment of National Control Programmes for the prevention and quality treatment of Thalassemia and other haemoglobin disorders in every affected country. The vision of TIF is to establish equal access to quality health care for every patient with Thalassemia and other haemoglobin disorders across the world. The TIF 2013 World Congress in Abu Dhabi with over 2,000 attendees offered a unique platform to meet with a truly international audience and gain insight into the latest research.
Amongst these great scientists, clinicians, and doctors I presented on “How to Keep a Positive Mind with Thalassemia” as this is something I was born with and was told through out my childhood from doctors that I will have limitations on my life and my life is to be a short life. The many nights that turned to weeks where I stayed in the hospital I heard from doctors who made their rounds teaching the residence an atypical textbook diagnosis of Thalassemia, not caring to diagnose me. Each time I heard these doctors teaching younger doctors about limitations my life has, this burning desire inside of me saying over and over “I’ll show you how far I can live.”
They wouldn’t even say my name but my medical record number, which is why I have it memorized where I don’t even know my mom’s cell phone number. According to them, I was not to live past 25 years old, I would have serious limitations in my life not completing university, and to not engage in the thought of motherhood. Motherhood was clearly out of the question. Doctors have also discouraged me participating in any athletic teams or sports. My mother would say to me “close your ears, they don’t know you; just have faith in God.” The desire inside of me and faith in God allowed me to achieve greatness in every aspect of my life having traveled to 22 countries, many of them twice, diving in the deep Red Sea, climbed Mount Sinai and many more outstanding experiences.
I take this, the self taught lesson of desire and I speak to the younger Thalassemia generation to keep positive through techniques. I also learned when I worked with the great peak performance coach Anthony Robbins and reading a book that continues to give me strength and vision, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Abu Dhabi was the perfect place to promote positivity as patients let go of their negative emotions. “The secret” I said “is to love Thalassemia, make it your best friend, embrace the treatments and even embrace the side effects,” This is the way I chose to start living with Thalassemia one night in the hospital at age ten and made it my best friend because there is no cure so I chose my attitude to be a happy attitude and everything can then work for me rather than against me. Imagine we have a choice!
While in Abu Dhabi, not only presenting but representing The Cooley’s Anemia Foundation as an Executive Committee and Member of the Board of Directors, I was honored to meet His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and his mother Her Highness Sheikha Sheikha Bint Saif Al Nahyan who is a TIF Board Member. At the conference, we discussed the challenges that lie ahead in the Thalassemia world and the challenges our Foundations face as the numbers grow in Third World countries. The Cooley’s Anemia Foundation was given the award of the Sultan Bin Khalifa International Award for Thalassemia Society of Excellence. His Highness and Sheikha Sheikha are dedicated in bringing awareness as 1 in 12 Emiratis are carriers. They are compassionate and passionate about the healthcare for Thalassemics in the UAE and have made all treatments to be free for every patient.
The following night after being awarded, we were invited to dinner at the Residential Royal Palace, a special and unforgettable evening to visit the home of His Highness. Everything was exquisite. The place settings, the peonies flower arrangements, the food, the pink hummus blended so well with beets to achieve that gorgeous pink, dessert and traditional Arabic music in a sensuous setting that I will never forget. This trip echoed in every way how I live my life, with strength, passion, and a desire in making the impossible possible. I am beyond 25 years old and have a five years old daughter Julia, an adorable, happy little girl. Life is always beautiful no matter what it brings to us because we just don’t know what’s around the corner…for me it can be my next $30 million buyer or seller.
Life is about making the impossible possible. This is the premise to how I chose to design my life, Maria Hadjidemetriou.
Maria Hadjidemetriou has been a passionate Downtown resident for more than 13 years. She enjoys life as a mom to her five-year-old daughter and being a Real Estate Sales Agent for Leonard Steinberg and The LuxuryLoft Team; she also contributes monthly to Downtown Mom TM. Maria has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation (Thalassemia Organization) since 1998 and on the Executive Committee since 2013. www.cooleysanemia.org
You can follow Maria on Twitter @downtownmomnyc.