By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
April 18, 2020
For years, Dr. Mina Izadyar’s clinic in Zartosht Street in Tehran was the only place in Iran children diagnosed with thalassemia, a serious blood condition, could seek treatment. Patients and their families from all over the country would travel to the capital to visit the clinic, and benefit from Dr Izadyar’s pioneering work.
Mina’s daughter Shirin Malekpur, who lives in the United States, talked to IranWire about her mother.
Mina Izadyar was born on October 1, 1949, in the city of Kerman. Mina’s father Daryush Izadyar and her mother Puran Tigrani were from the city’s Zoroastrian community. Her daughter says they were a humble family, neither rich or privileged, but they were determined to send their daughter to school.
“My grandmother had primary school education but encouraged her daughter to continue her education. The family moved to Tehran when Mina was in her first year of primary school. My mother obtained her diploma with top grades. She passed the university entrance examination in the same year and went to study medicine at Shiraz University.
“At that time, they had financial problems and my mother told me how she was worried about the pressure on her father because of her university expenses. My grandfather worked for Ray Municipality in Tehran province. He and my mother went to Shiraz to enroll her in university. It was then that my mother realized that they had to pay tuition fees. She decided to return and wait for the result of her entrance examination to Tehran University. Fortunately, she was accepted to the Medical Department at Tehran University in the same year.”
Mina Izadyar married Parviz Malekpur in 1973. After the revolution, Malekpur represented the Zoroastrian minority in the country’s first and second parliaments.
After her marriage with Parviz Malekpur, who was an electrical engineering student at Sharif University, (which was called Aryamehr at that time), Mina Izadyar and Malekpur went to the United States to continue their educations. They studied there for two years, and returned to Iran after Shirin, their first child, was born.
As soon as they returned to Iran, Izadyar began to work with families in some of Iran’s most deprived regions as a member of the country’s “Health Army.”
“She worked at a clinic in Kan for a while, before getting involved with children with thalassemia,” says Shirin Malekpur. “At that time, I went to high school. I remember her humanitarian concerns.”
In the 1980s, Iran began to establish specialist associations for patients of specific chronic diseases. Iranian thalassemia sufferers and hemophiliacs were in dire need of adequate medical attention and support. In 1984, she began working toward her ultimate dream, which she realized in 1990: the establishment of Iran’s Thalassemia Association.
Iranian journalist Massoud Behnoud commemorated and celebrated Izadyar and her work in his Hezardastan series, noting that her name is cited in key international research on thalassemia.
Shirin Malekpur describes her mother as a frank and hard-working person. As long as she was able to work, she remained the head of the Thalassemia Association.
“Although discrimination against religious minorities, including the Zoroastrians, is common in Iran, my mother basically paid no attention to discriminatory approaches. She had a candid and sharp tongue and looked at human issues from a distance. I don’t know for sure, but maybe the high scientific position she held helped; others did not have the courage to stop her.”
Malekpur remembers, too, that her mother refused to wear the full Islamic dress as encouraged by the government. She never wore a manteaux with trousers, but skirts and long stockings instead. She wore a headscarf since that was mandatory, but she never wore anything more elaborate than a scarf. “If anybody criticized her for appearing in such outfits, she made them respect her with her firm and powerful behavior.” She says her mother opposed the idea of appeasement.
Shirin Malekpur followed in her mother’s high-achieving footsteps: She holds a PhD in mathematics. She speaks proudly of her mother. — in fact, she says she has never met anyone like her.
“Nothing stopped her. She woke up at half past three in the morning to go to the pediatric department at Mehr Hospital. She visited the newborns and returned home by seven to prepare breakfast before we woke up. After sending us to school, she would go to the children’s clinic and worked there until well into the afternoon. In the afternoons she went to her own clinic. In between she had to manage the Thalassemia Association, write scientific papers and see to her students’ work. Sometimes I wonder where she got all that energy from.”
Izadyar fought tirelessly for the rights and needs of children with thalassemia. “All her friends, classmates, and teachers respected her. They knew she was frank and refused to be appeased. I remember whenever she got angry, she would go to the office of Dr. Rabbani, who was the director of the children’s clinic, without notice, or she called Dr. Milani, who was a member of parliament, to pursue the rights of children with thalassemia.
“My parents treated us in such a way that we would not think we are different because we are Zoroastrian. There was not much talk about the pressures minorities were enduring. She believed in equality and did not aspire to anything else.”
A Tribute to a Pioneering Doctor and Humanitarian
In 2010, Izadyar began complaining of a pain in her shoulder that she especially noticed when moving around while examining her patients. She told her daughter, who began to worry and urged her to join her in Madison, Wisconsin in the United States.
“She arrived there on Thanksgiving Day of 2011. She said she was not well. We were worried; Mother was not herself. She thought there might be something wrong with her gall bladder; that’s why she returned to Iran to undergo surgery. It was then that they discovered that cancer had metastasized everywhere. At that time chemotherapy drugs were scarce in Iran. My father had a great difficulty in obtaining them from the Red Cross pharmacies in as Ahvaz, Mashhad, and other remote cities. For that reason we persuaded her to come back to United States.”
Unfortunately, the surgery and chemotherapy could not save her, and Mina Izadyar died at the end of autumn 2013. She was 64.
Following her death, the medical community celebrated her work and life by setting up the Mina Izadyar Scientific Festival, held on her birthday on October 1 every year. The organizers say they are keeping alive the memory of this incredible woman, whose lofty determination and persistent fight for the rights of her patients continues to inspire, encourage and motivate the small Zoroastrian community still living in Iran, as well as the country’s thriving scientific and medical industries, campaigns and research.