Interventional and diagnostic radiologist, Dr Farrell Spiro, whose career in medicine has spanned more than five decades, has been recognised with the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award for his contribution to medicine and his long and distinguished service to the people of South Africa.
Dr Spiro was honoured at a function held at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg, where he has practised since 1996 and was instrumental in setting up the diagnostic and interventional radiology department at the facility. The Netcare Group’s chief executive officer, Dr Richard Friedland, the medical director of the Netcare Group, Dr Anchen Laubscher and a host of other dignitaries from Netcare and the medical profession attended the event.
“We are gathered here to pay tribute, acknowledge and thank Dr Farrell Spiro for his immense contribution to South African medicine and radiology, in an extraordinary career that has spanned no fewer than 57 years, and which still continues to this day,” said Dr Friedland at the award ceremony.
“Farrell, who celebrated his 80th birthday on 1 July, qualified in radiology before the CAT [computerised axial tomography] scan and MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] were even conceived of. He is not only the father of interventional radiology in South Africa, but has been, and remains, a most extraordinary doctor, physician and diagnostician,” added Dr Friedland.
“Perhaps Farrell’s most remarkable quality, however, is his wonderful bedside manner and the caring way in which he treats each and every one of his patients. The tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of patients, who have had the privilege to be treated by Farrell – and I am one of them – will no doubt all attest to the kind, gentle and reassuring manner in which he engaged with them.”
Dr Spiro graduated from WITS with an MBBCh in 1962. After his internship he spent three years as a registrar in the Department of Medicine at Baragwanath Hospital before moving to London in 1966, where he studied an MRCP postgraduate medical diploma, and was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Physicians.
Soon thereafter, Dr Spiro started as a registrar in radiology at St Bartholomew's and Great Ormond Street Children hospitals. In 1969, he received his Fellowship of the College of Radiology in the United Kingdom before returning to South Africa in 1971 and joining a radiology practice in Johannesburg at the old Workmen’s Compensation Hospital, which is today Netcare Milpark Hospital.
“It was there that Farrell started the first interventional radiology unit in South Africa. Farrell was the first medical practitioner in South Africa to do a balloon angioplasty of a leg in the iliac artery, after he learned the technique in Boston, USA, in 1977. He was also the first in this country to put stents in arteries outside of the heart.”
Founded in 2011, the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award, an initiative of Netcare in association with the Christiaan Barnard Foundation, pays tribute to doctors who practise at the Netcare Group’s healthcare facilities and who have demonstrated leadership in their specific field while contributing to the advancement of the medical profession.
“It is with the greatest sense of appreciation and gratitude that we bestow the Christiaan Barnard Memorial medal on Dr Farrell Spiro, the first radiologist to ever receive this award, for a lifetime of outstanding service, contribution and dedication in the fields of medicine, radiology and interventional radiology,” noted Dr Friedland.
Dr Laubscher, medical director of the Netcare Group, says that Dr Spiro is not only greatly admired and appreciated at Netcare and Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, but also by the wider medical profession in South Africa.
“Dr Spiro has had a long and most remarkable career that commenced in 1963, when he first started as a medical registrar at Johannesburg General Hospital, as it was known then. Dr Spiro has not only assisted countless grateful patients, but has also had many local and international colleagues defer to his diagnostic and interventional expertise over the years,” she notes.
“He has also made an immense contribution to Netcare, for which we would like to acknowledge him. Invited to establish a radiology department at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital 1996, Dr Spiro took up the challenge with gusto, and this department is today widely recognised as one of the finest diagnostic and interventional radiology services in the country.”
Dr Spiro says that he was most surprised when Dr Friedland called to inform him that he was to receive the prestigious Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award.
“I am humbled and honoured to have been recognised in this way,” he noted. “I have so many fond memories of my time here at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, and would in particular like to thank radiographer, Evelyn Goosen, who has worked with me for some 40 years and been a tremendous support to me throughout my career.”
Asked what had changed most during his long career in radiology, and why he had developed a particular interest in interventional radiology, Dr Spiro said technology within the field had “advanced unbelievably” since he first started out in medicine in the 1960s.
“As noted by Dr Friedland, we didn’t have technologies such as CT, MRI or ultrasound available to us back then. Of course this has all changed and we now have a considerable range of highly advanced technologies at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital to support both our diagnostic and interventional work. We also have some fantastic young talent who are highly skilled in various specialities and sub-specialities,” he noted.
“While I greatly enjoy the diagnostic aspect of the specialty, I also wanted to be able to directly assist patients and hence I developed a special interest in interventional radiology. I was astonished to recently encounter the first patient on which I performed that angioplasty. It was wonderfully affirming to meet him, fit and healthy some 30 years after we first undertook the procedure!”
Netcare Sunninghill Hospital general manager, Pieter Louw, said that by spearheading the establishment and development of the diagnostic and interventional radiology department at the hospital, Dr Spiro had made a tremendous contribution to the facility.
“Dr Spiro has a warm personality and bedside manner, and has always been most willing to mentor and assist younger practitioners and members of staff,” he observed.
“I understand that his practice has kept hundreds of patient letters thanking Dr Spiro for his help over the years. There can surely be no greater affirmation of the critical role he has played not only at our hospital but especially in the lives of his patients, and we thank him for his outstanding service all these years,” concluded Louw.
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