Growing up as a teenager in Woodstock, Anthony Figaji had no interest in becoming a brain surgeon. His dream was to become one of either four things: a break dancer, a gymnast, a trapeze artist or a professional athlete. The teenage Anthony would have probably laughed at you if you had told him that he would be elected as the President of the International Neurotrauma Society.
The Neurotrauma Society is an international body of scientists who aim to coordinate research in the areas of brain and spinal injuries. Anthony specifically focuses on the brain. More specifically, he is pediatric neurosurgeon, which means he specifically focuses on operating on the brains of kids.
To paint you a picture, in 2006, 16 month old Giovanni Davids was busy suffocating because the part of his brain that regulates breathing and blood flow was swollen. Anthony had to use tiny instruments to pierce a hole into his brain and drain the fluids that were causing the swelling. Had Anthony not performed this emergency surgery, little Giovani would not have been able to grow into the healthy little boy that he is today.
The procedure that Anthony and his team developed to treat little Giovani is considered groundbreaking and it is no wonder that Anthony has become an internationally recognized doctor.
The former Harold Cressy High School student completed his PhD and Neurosurgery degrees at UCT and he also lectures at UCT’s Division of Neurosurgery. In addition to being a surgeon, he is also the Head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
In 2012, he became UCT’s first professor of pediatric neurosurgery and he has published several papers on the subject. He is also the recipient of the Harry Crossley Fellowship and the Raimondi Award for best publication in Childs Nervous System.
What makes Anthony’s rise to the top of his profession even more remarkable is that he persevered despite his difficult childhood. His mother died when he was a teenager, and to this very day he considers her to be the most influential person in his life. After she died, Anthony and his brother were taken in by their uncles and aunts who looked after them until they graduated from University.
He says that he was also influenced by the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1980’s. He believes that each kid should have a right to quality medical care and that is why he chooses to work in a public hospital rather than in the private hospitals. He feels very strongly that working in the public sector should never be an excuse to deliver a poorer quality of care.
Despite the stress of his job, Anthony has a very positive outlook on life. A few years ago, he suffered from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is a bleeding on the brain and can result in coma, paralysis, and death. The hemorrhage was successfully treated (by a neurosurgeon) and what the hemorrhage did was make him feel grateful for all the people that care about him. In addition to the support of his colleagues and friends, he is especially grateful for the love he received from his family including his two young daughters.
To his colleagues in the medical field, Anthony Figaji is a world renowned neurosurgeon that is putting South Africa on the medical map. To his daughters, he is a loving father, and to people like Nicole Davids, he is the kind hearted doctor that saved the life of her son, Giovanni.