On the cutting edge
Dr Mahesh Dhanjee is a remarkable man. Not only is he a urologist and a newly minted robotic surgeon, he is also a pilot and a devoted family man.
Dr Dhanjee grew up in Brits, where he recalls wonderful times with family and friends . “I had a fantastic childhood. I remember cycling from Brits to Hartbeespoort Dam with my friends, and picnics with my family. Those were tranquil days, happy and stress-free. My family stood strong together when it came to working hard. My father owned a high-end, men’s clothing store and it took the full dedication of the whole family to build the business. This meant weekends and school holidays were not always a time for play and leisure. Looking back now, I realise sacrificing time for the good of the family was character-building. So many of the life skills I incorporate into my life now I learnt back in those days; watching my parents run their business had an impact on how I run my practice. How I communicate with my patients in Afrikaans is because I learnt to speak fluent Afrikaans from our customers.”
Dr Dhanjee sees himself as someone who instantly connects and cares about people, which made medicine a natural choice for him. “After school, I was accepted into Wits Medical School, where I did my basic medical training. I then interned and subsequently specialised in urology, in Pretoria. At the end of my training, I obtained my fellowship in urology (cum laude) from the College of Medicine of South Africa. I then also completed my Masters in Medicine in Urology.
When deciding on where to set up practice, Newcastle popped up on my radar first because my older brother Umesh, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon, was based in Newcastle. “We’ve always been very close- brothers and best friends. I opened my practice one street away from his. He was a tremendous inspiration to me and an exceptional, motivating force. He was tragically wrenched from us three years ago after a very courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.”
Over the years, Mahesh has managed to build an excellent reputation in Northern KZN as a leading urologist. “I’ve been very blessed. The community of Newcastle, and surrounding areas such as Vrede, Ermelo, Vryheid, Dundee, Ladysmith, Estcourt all make up my patient referral base. My patients together with the GPs, and my specialist colleagues have all been extremely supportive and kind to me; I attribute the success of my practice to them, as well as to my hard-working and dedicated staff.”
It was coincidentally one of these patients who indirectly brought together Mahesh and his wife. “Four years ago, I saw a patient with complex kidney stones and it was during a ward round that I came upon her daughter. She was a university lecturer living in Norway, where she had taught and studied for over 15 years. When she heard of her mother’s condition, she flew down to see her mum. This beautiful woman is Ansia. After four years, and much arm-twisting to move back to South Africa,” he says with a smile, “we are now married and enjoying every moment of life together.”
When time permits, this doctor takes to the skies. “Every boy has a secret dream to be a fireman or an astronaut, or a policeman…mine was to fly. I pursued the dream tirelessly, giving up my weekends to attend lessons at Lanseria International Airport, and my evenings to study. Flying also helps me take my skills to other areas. I have done clinics around the country as well as outside South Africa. We have quite a large aviation community in Newcastle and the thing that strikes me most is that silver cord of connectivity that links us, the concern we share for each other’s welfare and safety. I feel privileged to be a part of this particular network. I am also a member of the Newcastle Flying Club, where we invite guest speakers to share their aviation stories with us and update us on air safety, search and rescue.”
Mahesh’s wanderlust triggered more than just flying. Travelling is the thrilling by-product to flying. “I’ve been lucky enough to visit all the continents. Ansia and I both share a love for travel. While we once travelled separately, we now get to travel together. Most recently, I visited Norway and got to drive in a snow blizzard for the first time. My favourite city, though, has to be Barcelona. I love the Spanish, their food, wine and culture. There is something transfixing about the landscape and the architecture – the way the city is right up against the water. It’s simply fantastic!
More and more men are aware of the dangers of prostate cancer and are choosing to get themselves screened earlier
It was while attending a medical conference in Munich that Dr Dhanjee was first exposed to robotic surgery, a relatively new concept in South Africa, and a field not many local doctors have ventured into. Robotic surgery in South Africa targets largely prostate cancer. “In robotic surgery, the patient is prepped with small incisions through which instruments enter the body. The surgeon then does the operation remotely, with the use of a control console. The surgeon has a 3D magnified view and the operation is done with very small instruments, which means no large cuts, no excessive bleeding, a lower margin for error and a quicker recovery rate. Robotic surgery is the way of the future.”
Dr Dhanjee recently became one of only two trained robotic surgeons in KZN. As a urologist, he sees a fair amount of prostate cancer cases, and is passionate about spreading the word on robotic surgery as a form of treatment for prostate cancer. “The stigma surrounding men’s health is dissipating, thanks to social and print media. More and more men are aware of the dangers of prostate cancer and are choosing to get themselves screened earlier. If prostate cancer is detected early enough, like most cancers, it can be cured. With robotic surgery, prostate surgery becomes basically a walk in the park, despite it being major surgery, with a hospital stay of one to two nights. One of my patients who had his prostate removed is 88 years old and he was back on his bicycle three weeks later!”
So where to next for this dynamic personality? For now, he does not plan on leaving Newcastle any time soon. “I love my local and regional community and I don’t see myself anywhere else. I aim to continue staying abreast of any new innovations in my profession. In this way, I can be a better doctor to my patients. In terms of my personal life, I just want to spend more time with my family – see my daughter Kamini complete her education in Accounting Science at the University of Pretoria and my son Pranav finish high school in Magoebaskloof. I’m so lucky to still have both my parents and I make a point of visiting them every day. What makes our relationship so unique is that our home language is Gujarati; when I’m with my parents, we don’t speak English at all. Apart from that, who knows? As I always say: in my 20s I became a doctor, at 30 I specialised as a urologist, in my 40s I learnt to fly and now that I’m turning 50, I do so as a robotic surgeon. Now, if they’re recruiting urologists for Mars, then maybe that could be something for my 60s!”
Get It Northern KZN & Midlands October 2018