A surgeon’s tale on the gratifying impact of plastic surgery

Col Dr Charles Furaha wakes up each morning with a desire to change yet another life.

As a plastic surgeon, he has dealt with the restoration, reconstruction and the alteration of the human body-handling cases that range from tummy tucks, liposuction, breast reductions and thermocoagulation for facial black spots, among others.

 

He has been doing this for the past nine years, and taking care of his patients as well as seeing them happy is what has sustained him through this perplexing profession. 

 

He says, “Making people happy through surgery is very satisfying and contributes a lot in making my work and my life easier and happier.”

 

Becoming a surgeon

Dr Furaha loved surgery right from his undergraduate training and from a young age. He attributes this passion to his interest in building and making things with his hands. 

Dr Furaha is the first plastic surgeon in Rwanda. Courtesy photo

He thinks it’s this combination of having some doses of engineering and artistry in his mind and the love for surgery that drew him to plastic surgery as a profession.

“I came to realise that this was the speciality that was best fitting with my character.”

The surgeon received his training from University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and now works full time at Rwanda Military Hospital.

Although plastic surgery is still a relatively new thing in Rwanda, the medic says it has so far been received very well from both his colleagues and so many patients as it brought answers to numerous previously unmet needs.

Currently, more than 95% of the procedures he does are reconstructive (an operation to fix an abnormality or deformity).

Dr Furaha (C) during an operation last week. Courtesy photo

He also does cosmetic surgeries, but he says these are still few though he hopes to be able to do a bit more of them in the near future. 

“Among the reconstructive surgeries I do, the bulk of them are treatment of severe wounds, burn contractures, cleft lip and palate, reconstruction of defects from cancer surgeries or post traumatic injuries,” he reveals.

His most challenging procedure to date was replanting a hand that had been cut by a machine. He says it took him over 12 hours to do it.

Whereas reconstructing a human body is risky, the medic says ensuring great results calls for precision and dedication to perfection. 

“Reconstructing someone’s body is not riskier than any other type of major surgery. Like in any field of life, to get great results one has to plan ahead, know what he or she is doing and have the will to do the best they can,” he notes.

Plastic surgery is more than a trend 

People always wish to look the best they can be for many reasons. Sometimes, for even reasons that many people wouldn’t think about, like giving themselves the best chances to stay longer in their jobs, the surgeon explains.

Dr Furaha believes that whereas plastic surgery is more about making a person look good, it also empowers them and provides them with confidence.

“How do you think a boy with big breasts feels? How empowered can he be if given the opportunity to have surgery that can give him the same flat chest as his peers? Congenital and acquired deformities can be very stressful to a human being. Correcting them usually comes with patient relief and satisfaction,” he says.

“The ultimate to me comes with correction of cleft lips. Majority of children with uncorrected cleft lip will not attend school and even if they do, they are likely to hate it and not perform because of bullying from their peers. Every time I repair a baby’s cleft lip, I know I am giving him or her a passport to go to school and an opportunity to be the best they can be in their future. That’s dope! And by the way, cleft lip and palate are free for patients at Rwanda Military Hospital.”

He says that the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures worldwide are breast augmentation, liposuction, tummy tucks, nose reshaping and vaginoplasty.

The medic encourages those who desire having these procedures to go for them assuring them of affordable prices. He says the cost of these surgeries are quite similar to procedures that are made in other fields of surgery. 

“People wrongly think that plastic surgery is very expensive only because of the hype around it in the showbiz industry. Even in the US, neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons and cardiologists are likely to earn more than plastic surgeons.”

Possible side effects

Scars from surgery are very common in plastic surgery and can go wrong sometimes. Nonetheless, the medic points out that there is no surgery or treatment in general that comes without risks of complications. 

He, therefore, says the main thing is to know they can happen, warn the patient before surgery and do your best as a surgeon to avoid them.

According to him, if you exclude children, anyone as long as they do it for the right reasons can have cosmetic surgery done if there is no underlying medical condition that would prevent to do it safely.

His work isn’t without integrity as he tries to talk to his patients to ensure that they aren’t altering their bodies with unwise motives.

“Weirdly enough some people may want to do cosmetic surgery in order to try to mend a relationship that is broken or is in the process of being broken. This is the worst reason to alter one’s body and if I happen to sense that during my conversation with a prospective patient, I will make sure I avoid doing that surgery.”

Future of plastic surgery 

As the first plastic surgeon in Rwanda and currently one of the two, Dr Furaha says for now he cannot afford to specialise in one specific field of plastic surgery. He is doing a bit of everything to be able to give an answer to the variety of needs from his different patients. 

Only when the country gets dozens of plastic surgeons shall they be able to narrow their field of expertise in the different fields of plastic surgery.

In terms of advancement for this profession, he really hopes tissue engineering will become a common thing in the future, and that people will be able to grow body parts from their cells in the laboratories. 

“This will give the opportunity to replace lost or diseased body parts with cultured ones that will be 100% compatible with one’s body.”

dmbabazi@newtimesrwanda.com

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