Apr 2019 1st Edition

Halala! Prof Tshifularo Halala!

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

A South African ear, nose and throat specialist has made world history by successfully operating on his patient’s middle ear to restore hearing.

A ground-breaking, world-first middle ear operation was recently performed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo (55) at Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

Using 3D printing technology, Prof Tshifularo and his team printed and replaced the middle ear’s three bones in an operation that took three hours.

“The desire to make a difference has always been in my heart. I have been working on this project for the past 10 years. I started to get excited two years ago and went to the lab to work. The 3D technology is very exciting and has really changed the way we do things,” he said.

Prof Tshifularo told Vuk’uzenzele that even though he faced some challenges during his research there was no turning back. “I would sleep thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. And, when I was busy, the ideas came and I would think ‘Wow, this is it’. Then I would go back to the lab and try,” he said.

He did not fear that the operation would go wrong, due to his extensive training. Prof Tshifularo and his team removed the patient’s three middle ear bones, which were broken in a car accident, and replaced them with the new bones, which are less than one centimetre each and made from titanium.

“The ear has the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The middle ear is made up of the membrane and three tiny bones. When you clean the ear you feel the membrane and when you touch it, it’s very sensitive. It’s like a speaker because it amplifies sound from outside.

“The three bones in the middle ear are the hammer, anvil and stirrup. Ligaments and muscles keep them in place. They sit in an empty space. They hang,” he said.

The medical breakthrough will enable those born without middle ear bones to have them built and fitted into their ear.

Prof Tshifularo left high-paying private sector jobs in favour of public service. The father of four said he stays in the public sector to train young doctors and to improve his research.

“I am encouraged and wondering what is next, but I am more determined to go back to the lab and do more research because I know academically there are a lot of questions that we need to answer.”

With a love for imparting knowledge, Prof Tshifularo is passionate about growing young talent.

“I want to train our young doctors and I want the impact not to be my own, but for the country and the continent,” said Prof Tshifularo, who hopes that his achievement will plant the seeds of motivation in young doctors.   

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