Thoracic Disease & Surgery
Med School/Year Graduated: University of the Witwatersrand, 1988
Years in Practice: 23
You’ve made every Top Docs list since 2008 and reside atop our all-time leaderboard for thoracic surgery. So, tell us: What is thoracic surgery?
Thoracic surgeons operate on all organs in the chest, primarily the lungs, esophagus and the chest wall or rib cage. They remove cancers of the lungs and esophagus and stomach, fix hiatal hernias and GERD, and also are involved in transplantation.
Have anti-smoking campaigns been successful in reducing the instances of lung disease and emphysema you see?
Absolutely. Campaigns, smoking cessation and lung cancer screening programs have all played a huge role. Nonetheless, there are still way too many smokers, including vapers, and the damage done from previous smokers continues to be a major health issue in this country.
What are the warning signs of grave esophageal issues? When does it go from mere “heartburn” to something more concerning?
Persistent heartburn over many years can do severe damage to your esophagus [including] cancer. If you develop trouble swallowing [or] food moves through your esophagus too slowly, then it’s time to seek help. As a lung transplant surgeon, I also see patients who have done severe damage to their lungs because of severe GERD – reflux, especially at night, can enter the airway and cause significant injury to the lungs.
You went to medical school in South Africa! What do you miss most about it?
I was born and raised in Johannesburg. Just a gorgeous country. Apart from friends and family, I miss the natural beauty of the country, and the magnificent wild animals.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My favorite times are spent with my family. But I do try to keep in shape by swimming, running and biking. Exercise restores my mental energy. I try to do two or three triathlons a year, but my favorite annual activity is swimming [from] Alcatraz [to San Francisco] with my two daughters, who are both very strong swimmers.
Has any TV show or movie accurately depicted chest and lung surgery?
City of Angels with Meg Ryan and The Doctor with William Hurt are both great movies. I ask my residents to make sure they see the latter. Great movie.
“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”
An artist or an architect. I like to use my hands and I like building things. As doctors, I don’t think we nurture our creative sides much – and we should.