The knife's edge

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - LITERALLY SPEAKING - BY STEPHEN WESTABY

Al­though Pro­fes­sor Stephen Westaby was born with the nec­es­sary co­or­di­na­tion and man­ual dex­ter­ity, it was a head trauma sus­tained dur­ing univer­sity that gifted him the qual­i­ties of an ex­cep­tional heart sur­geon: qual­i­ties that are fre­quently as­so­ci­ated with psy­chopa­thy. His thirty-five-year ca­reer has been char­ac­terised by fear­less­ness and ruth­less am­bi­tion; leav­ing em­pa­thy at the hos­pi­tal door as thou­sands of pa­tients put their lives in his hands.

For heart sur­geons, the in­evitable cost of fail­ure is death and in The Knife’s Edge, Westaby re­flects on the unique mind­set of those who are drawn to this ex­hil­a­rat­ing and often tragic pro­fes­sion. We dis­cover the pi­o­neers who grasped op­por­tu­ni­ties and took chances to drive in­no­va­tion and save lives. Often dif­fi­cult, un­in­hib­ited and fear­less, theirs is a field con­stantly threat­ened by the risk of pub­lic fail­ure.

Like those be­fore him, Westaby re­fuses to draw the line in his search for a life­time so­lu­tion to prob­lems of the heart. His de­ter­mi­na­tion is unerring

- a stead­fast­ness un­der­pinned by his un­usual mind. But as we glimpse into the fu­ture of car­diac surgery, for all its re­mark­able sci­en­tific ad­vance­ment, one ques­tion re­mains: within the con­fines of so­cialised med­i­cal health­care sys­tems, how can heart sur­geons - in­di­vid­u­als often hard­wired with avoid­ance of self­doubt, a pen­chant for glory and a fla­grant dis­re­gard for au­thor­ity - truly flour­ish?

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