Legendary radiologist Dr Farrell Spiro has received a prestigious award for his service to South Africa.

Wits alumnus Dr Farrell Spiro became the first radiologist to be honoured with the  Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award on 23 July.

The award recognises the contributions made by esteemed medical practitioners with remarkable dedication to their field. Spiro is known for an illustrious career spanning over 50 years that started with a bachelor in medicine and surgery from Wits University in 1962.

The doctor is known as the “father of interventional radiology” and is credited with starting the first interventional radiology unit at Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital in 1971. Spiro’s career highlights include being the first South African to perform a balloon angioplasty on a leg, in the iliac artery. This is a procedure that widens blocked arteries to improve blood flow. He was given an award at a ceremony at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, where he has practised for 24 years. Spiro was also the first South African medical practitioner to put stents in arteries outside of the heart.

Netcare Sunninghill Hospital general manager Pieter Louw told Wits Vuvuzela that Spiro spearheaded the radiology department at the hospital and had left a fine example for fellow medical practitioners.

“This is the first time that one of the doctors at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital has been awarded the Christiaan Barnard Award, and this will most definitely inspire other doctors to contribute immensely to the medical field in South Africa,” said Louw.

Spiro told Wits Vuvuzela his advice to aspiring Wits radiologists is always to be aware that the patient comes first.

“You are dealing with a patient, not just an x-ray,” he said. “I remember a lecturer telling us all we need to have is honesty, integrity and knowledge, and you will be a good doctor.”

Spiro said, “The field is growing because the technology is growing and it’s exciting to see what you can do with MRI, CT and ultrasounds – we didn’t have that; we only had x-rays. The students thrive with these new developments.”

Long-time colleague and radiographer Evelyn Goosen described Spiro as humble and down-to-earth.

“He’s not a cowboy. You get doctors who will do anything to get money, but he will do anything for the patient instead,” said Goosen.

After his lifetime achievement Spiro has no immediate plans to retire, even at the age of 80.

“When I get up, I am happy to go to work. I like to be useful and if that changes to a point where I got bored or disinterested, that’s when I’ll stop,” said Spiro.

FEATURED IMAGE: Influential radiologist Dr Farrell Spiro and radiographer Evelyn Goosen stand beside the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Award. Photo: Busang Senne.