Top trauma surgeon humbled to receive Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award
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Professor Jacques Goosen might have recently been bestowed with the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award for his lifelong dedication to trauma medicine, but he insists that it has all been in a day’s work.
“I feel grateful but also and some embarrassment because I merely did my job and tried to contribute to the well-being of patients in the trauma units in which I worked,” he told The Saturday Star this week.
“While I accept this award on behalf of others, I dedicate it to the patients and their families who say, ‘Thank you, doctor,’ not only in the moment of recovery, but also in the moment of ultimate grief.”
Founded in 2011, the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award pays tribute to doctors who practise at health-care facilities within the Netcare Group and who have demonstrated leadership in their specific field while contributing to the advancement of the medical profession.
The health-care company believed that Goosen, whose medical career began back in 1978, was the perfect recipient for the award.
“The dedication Prof Goosen has demonstrated in pursuit of preserving human life has earned him international respect and the lifetime gratitude of many thousands of patients and their families,” group medical director of Netcare, Dr Anchen Laubscher said.
“Over many years, Prof Goosen has placed his exceptional surgical skill and tremendous insight into trauma at the service of patients, saving countless lives from often catastrophic injuries,” Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare added.
Goosen joked that he went into medicine because he was “too dumb to become an engineer or a lawyer”.
But overall, he had explained that he had an aptitude for applying systematic thinking to complexity and decided to specialise in trauma because of the constant challenge to improve as well as its urgency and complexity.
Goosen, who was recently part of the trauma care unit at Netcare Union hospital in Alberton, explained that a busy and stressful day awaits him when he is on the job.
“When I am on call, I can expect anything for the next 24 hours and deal with it by assessment, followed by resuscitation; operation and intensive care; all of the latter three taking place simultaneously, requiring constant presence and attention until the patient is stable. It is intricate, complex, immediate.”
When Goosen is not on call, he is busy stabilising patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), seeking opportunities for improvement in each organ system; planning and organising reconstructive surgery with other disciplines; and in some cases, reconstructive operations specific to his own discipline.
“I also do some follow-ups of outpatients, dealing with family, managing patient reports, and then some time for study, research and teaching.”
Goosen has four decades of experience in trauma treatment across the country and has seen this medical field evolve over the years.
“Trauma started out as fixing what was broken, simple mechanical thinking and doing with poor results,” he explained.
“But during the 1980s, we realised that it was a complex systemic disease, requiring multidisciplinary input and we now know more about timing interventions according to the physiological status of the patient, and to apply the latest in critical care to support the patient during recovery.”
While this field has vastly improved since Goosen first started his medical career, he admitted that the coronavirus pandemic devastated hospitals at times in South Africa forcing him and his colleagues to think outside the box.
“Covid-19 is likewise a complex systemic disease, and the treatment strategies required new thinking and this will soon find its way into trauma care.”
He also added that the lockdown as well as various bans on alcohol “slowed trauma down to a trickle.”
Goosen, who has also invested decades in training other medical professionals, is also a staunch supporter of Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS), South Africa, since 1992 when he started instructing, and served as chairperson from 1998 to 2002.
He was also a key member of the Strategic Review Committee for the World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention. For four years until 2007, he served as chairperson of the Trauma Society of South Africa.
“One’s career passes rapidly from achievement, to service, to reflection,” he said.
“Over many years, one experiences deep satisfaction from seeing young people uncover their hidden talents, realising how good they really are, and surpassing the achievements of their mentors.” he said.
As Goosen also credits his wife Marieta for keeping his “feet on the ground,” he has urged the nation’s aspiring trauma specialists to enter and excel in this highly fulfilling medical field.
“The focus is moving toward emergency medicine and emergency surgery and my advice for others is to be prepared to sacrifice time, work at odd hours, be challenged, manage the disappointment of loss, but above all, savour the ecstasy of seeing an unlikely survivor be reunited with family and society.
“Actively seek to care for your family and look after your own mental and physical health,” he added.