Hitting the Global Stage in 3D
Who would have guessed that the rural village of Mbahela outside Thohoyandou, in Venda, South Africa will produce in June 1964 a young man who would grow up starting off as herdsman to wind up as the global pioneer in the use of 3D bones for reconstructive middle ear implants? Well, that is Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Head of the Department of Ear, Nose and Throat, Head and Neck Surgery at the Otorhinolaryngology Department of the University of Pretoria, He is my pick of the week.
This third son of Florah Tshinovhea Tshifularo and Zacharia Thanyani Tshifularo already knew at the age of 13 what he wanted to become: a medical doctor. He married Samdika Blessings Tshifularo and they have six children including their adopted children. Back in 2000 when he was appointed Professor, he was not only the youngest but also the only black professor of ENT in South Africa.
His medical interests include Otology, Rhinology and Paediatric ENT. Professor, Tshifularo at the Otorhinolaryngology Department of the University of Pretoria, started developing this technology during his PhD studies. He and his team at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria performed the first transplant on 13 March 2019. The endoscopic procedures lasted approximately 2 hours. The first patient was a 40-year-old with accidental trauma damage and the other was a 62-year-old born with a middle ear issue and a history of failed interventions. Hearing ability declines from 30 or 40 years and by the time a human being gets to 80 years of age a significant part of hearing is lost. It goes without saying that apart from these natural causes of the loss of hearing, there is also loss of hearing resulting accidents and physical damage to the head.
This Professor of world acclaim is also a man of God and is a senior Pastor at Christ Revealed Fellowship Church in Pretoria. About the day on which he went to into theatre to carry out that ground-breaking procedure, he says: ”Before I went to theatre that day, I prayed because I am a main of faith, and the procedure was successful”. This attitude by the Professor Tshifularo immediately relaunches the debate between religion and spirituality on the one part and medicine on the other. Some hospitals deal with this by having a hospital Chaplain. Danish Zaidi in the AMA Journal of Ethics (July 2018) affirms the following: “Religion and spirituality will continue to influence health care on both patient and community levels. It is up to the medical community to appreciate this fact and educate trainees on religion and spirituality’s role in health care. On a macro level, a better understanding of patient and community values can help scale up the impact of faith-based health initiatives and improve hospital policies and medical legislation. On an individual level, recognizing the roles of religion and spirituality in medicine can help clinicians approach their patients with more empathy and trust and strengthen team-based collaborations between clinicians and chaplains. Further studying the impact of religion and spirituality (and openly discussing it) can then help to clarify why clinicians may feel moral distress when their values conflict with their patients’—and how they can address it”. Professor Tshifularo is a Doctor and a Pastor. I am sure that professionally and can easily be a Hospital Chaplain and that of a clinician, all wrapped up in one. He deals with the intricacies of the of the physical body and the interrogations of the spirit and the soul.
Looking at the siblings of the Professor one can only conclude that he is from a hard-working family and a blessed one at that. Though Tshifularo is the first person to become a professor in his family, he is not the only doctor. Born in a family of six, he says all of them are academics, thanks to his mother who valued education. Two of his brothers are medical doctors, one is a qualified maths and science teacher while the other one is a chartered accountant. His sister is a school principal. He says in the entire Tshifularo family, there are currently seven medical doctors. The father of four says his own children have since vowed to sharpen their own skills because what he has done has inspired them.
I am profiling the Professor as testimony to fact that hard and determination pays off. In a continent like ours where shortcuts, at times by hook or crook, are attractive to many youths, it is important for them to see to what heights you reach regardless from the humble nature of your beginnings. In his own word in and an interview granted to GQ South Africa in July 2020 the Professor states: “People like me never arrive. After climbing one mountain we want to climb another one. If I was easily satisfied I would have never achieved all the breakthroughs in my life,”
Professor Mashudu Tshifularo is not only a trail blazer, he is a mentor researcher, a teacher and a Pastor or Man of God and most definitely a leader. So, who then is a leader and what are the qualities of a leader? In the GQ journal already mentioned the Professor gives an edifying answer “A leader needs to be service orientated. We call it servanthood leadership. It’s no longer about me. Even myself, it’s no longer about me, Mashudu. I’ve done my part, it’s over. I think it’s more about everybody, the nation, the people – it’s about how can you make a difference in someone’s life, whomever you meet. It does not matter whether or not you know that person. Make that person’s life feel better than it was before they met you. Leaders need to be moral; they need to be responsible; they need to be trustworthy; they must not think of their pockets all the time; they must be sure to uplift other people around them. That’s where the problem is. People think of themselves, me, me, me. We’re much too self-centred. We need leaders who know that we are watching them. Everyone talks about John Kani (a South African Actor) – we look up to him. If he makes a small mistake, everyone who’s watching falls down like dominoes. Sometimes people don’t realise that whatever you do, it’s not about you, it’s people who are looking up to you. You give them hope. We need to do it. If you’re given an opportunity to be recognised as a leader, walk the talk”.