A Surgical Pioneer With A Humble Heart

Growing up in the South of Johannesburg, Ridwan was brought up to lead a life of compassion and selflessness. His parents, Sayed and Farida Mia, taught him the importance of using his skills and abilities to make a meaningful contribution to society. These values of humanitarianism and empathy inform the way he conducts himself as a surgeon. “My parents are a very big inspiration for me and have always preached to me and my siblings about offering the very best we can in any scenario we are faced with. This plays a big role in my vision for the way I practice as a surgeon and the way I assist my patients.”

Ridwan is internationally acclaimed for performing a groundbreaking skin grafting procedure – the first of its kind in South Africa. A little girl named Isabella ‘Pippie’ Kruger had extensive burn wounds. Ridwan and his team cloned her skin and used it to cover her wounds, enabling this little girl to enjoy her childhood. For this pioneering feat, he was awarded the National Order of the Baobab, which was presented to him in 2013 by former President Jacob Zuma. This innovative procedure earned Ridwan a lot of media attention. One could say he became somewhat of a celebrity, a medical rock star if you will. He could be easily lauded amongst the great politicians, innovators, and artists of our time; but, for Ridwan, it is about so much more than getting recognition; it is all about service to humanity. “It is a very humbling feeling to think that anyone would consider me to be within the ranks of those who have excelled in their respective fields. To be honest, when my team and I were planning that cloning procedure and working on its logistics, it was more out of a sense of need and purpose.”

 

More Than A Career

The most satisfying aspect of his Ridwan’s job is being able to transform the lives of others. “It is so rewarding to know that the work that is done in our profession can impact so positively on the lives of others.” While training as a plastic surgeon at the University of Wits, Ridwan was exposed to patients with burn wounds and paediatric patients with congenital abnormalities and deformities. He also encountered the Smile Foundation, which is an NGO dedicated to making reconstructive surgical treatment accessible to individuals who cannot afford it. This exposure touched the most tender part of his heart, moving him to work with refugees and children who are burn victims. “The fact that it makes such a palpable difference to the lives of these otherwise helpless patients, their families and their communities is very much what attracts us as surgeons to these procedures.”

 

 

 

 

It is all about service to humanity

Last year, Ridwan spent some time in the refugee camps of Lebanon, working with Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi patients. There, he operated on many children with cleft lip and palate deformities. This experience was rewarding, and it gave him a renewed sense of purpose. He relishes the joy and gratitude expressed by his patients and their families. “Such experiences make me realize that being in a profession such as this has a higher purpose; it goes far beyond just being a career.”

 

Overcoming Challenges

In his time as a surgeon, Ridwan has performed many outstanding and life-changing procedures, and he has amassed a plethora of accolades. However, his journey has not been without its challenges. One of his biggest challenges has been trying to strike a work-life balance. Since there is a shortage of skilled surgeons in Johannesburg, he finds himself spending hours going from one surgery to the next. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. He also says that dealing with narrow-minded colleagues and politics are challenges he has to overcome. “Accessing sufficient theatre time at hospitals, dealing with colleagues who may still have mindsets that are rooted in the past, both medically and politically, and facing up to the challenges presented by a populist government looking to squeeze specialist, academic and private medicine through poor vision and simplistic ideas are also preoccupations.”

 

"It is so rewarding to know that our profession can impact so positively on the lives of others

 

Despite these challenges, Ridwan has found healthy ways to maintain his sanity and keep himself focused on making a difference. “Working on a regular exercise routine, keeping fit and eating healthy form a large part of coping with the tough challenges one faces. Making time to connect with parents, siblings, friends and loved ones is so vital to keeping a healthy work-life balance.” Ridwan’s journey as a surgeon has been nothing short of amazing. It has been a journey filled with memorable highlights. “Qualifying as a plastic surgeon, being present at some of the most iconic plastic surgery meetings internationally and being invited on volunteer missions to do some very difficult surgeries have all been very rewarding experiences.”

The man that Ridwan is today is the result of having supportive parents who have been his biggest cheerleaders throughout his career. “They have remained my pillars of strength, refusing to change their strong and unqualified motivation and support. Come what may, they have always chosen not to judge, but to guide and share their wisdom and love.” Ridwan has also benefited from being under the tutelage of incredible teachers and mentors who have shaped his outlook and have contributed to his career development.

Ridwan Mia is the paragon of excellence. His determination, hard work and selfless devotion to restoring hope make him one of the most inspirational South Africans of our time. To those who look up to him, he has this to say: “It is a very competitive world out there and you will only be successful once you have beaten all the obstacles and challenged the naysayers. Keep yourself mentally, physically and emotionally optimal and this will ensure success in any field you choose.”