A Howick surgeon with Guillain-Barré syndrome has graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences (surgery) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Just after qualifying as a surgeon in 2017, Dr Michelle Smith (37) of Howick contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves.
Smith said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday that the disorder took away her ability to perform surgery due to the permanent nerve damage it caused.
However, she said, falling in love with research and getting this degree has taught her that she can still contribute to the surgical field, albeit in a different way.
“I am immensely proud of my academic achievement, especially as it adds new knowledge to a field that I am passionate about,” said Smith.
She is a specialist surgeon at Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, where she sub-specialises in critical care and also supports and teaches young researchers.
According to UKZN, Smith’s study identified risk factors for mortality and adverse events in patients undergoing emergency laparotomy for non-traumatic surgical conditions.
“Identifying high-risk patients enables surgeons to employ strategies to ameliorate this risk,” she said.
Her study found that having comorbid chronic illnesses as well as active TB and HIV increased the chances of adverse outcomes in patients undergoing emergency laparotomy, said UKZN.
It said her findings also indicated physiological parameters as well as certain components of surgery that may contribute to an increased risk of mortality.
“I work full-time as a specialist in an academic hospital so finding time to dedicate to my PhD was not always easy, however, setting realistic timelines for various aspects of the course helped me stay focused,” she said.