Wednesday, May 6, 2009

STI: Tunnel engineer

May 7, 2009

The Pro

Tunnel engineer

Dr Dede Selamat Sutedja, 43, senior consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Gleneagles Hospital, tells POON CHIAN HUI how maintaining the liver and gastrointestinal health of patients is like being a tunnel repairman


I decided to specialise in gastroenterology and hepatology because...


This specialty is a unique blend of both cognitive and manual skills.


While I like to care for patients with chronic illnesses and think about ways to combat complications of diseases like liver cirrhosis, I also like to work with my hands, like performing endoscopy therapy.


The gastrointestinal tract is fascinating because...


Although it appears to be a single organ system, pathological conditions in the gastrointestinal tract encompass almost all forms - from infectious diseases to auto-immune disorders to cancers.


If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be a...


Maintenance tunnel engineer. When the gastrointestinal tunnel is affected by a bleeding vessel, I do patchwork to seal the leak. When there's a polyp blocking the tunnel, I remove it to clear the way.


I also do 'colouring' work, such as correcting black stools, treating pallor, as well as resolving jaundice and tea-coloured urine.


I have come across all types of cases...


I am most intrigued by challenging cases that have not been described in textbooks, are uncommon or have atypical presentations.


A defining experience would be the Slim-10 incident which happened about six years ago, when I was involved in managing the first cases of liver failure caused by the diet pills. It was exciting to be part of a team that was discovering new medical evidence.


A typical day for me would be...


I used to start the day with a short exercise session. These days, I use the time to help clean and dress my son, who is less than a year old.


At 8.30am, I start work at my clinic at Gleneagles Hospital. I see both inpatients and outpatients and perform endoscopy day surgery.


I am fortunate that my sister helps me as the clinic manager and my wife, who's an accountant, manages the accounts.


After I end work at 6.30pm, I either spend the evening attending social events or with my family at home. I also read recent medical journals and updates.


I love patients who...


Remain positive despite the health setbacks they suffer no matter how grave the outlook is.


These patients are my everyday heroes and heroines and I am blessed to have met so many of them in my 20-year career.


Patients who get my goat are...


People who do not appreciate their second chances.


For example, liver transplant patients who do not look after themselves despite medical advice. This is because I have seen post-liver transplant patients who go back to drinking alcohol and wreck their new lives.


One little known fact about the stomach is...


It produces about two to three litres of acid every day.


Things that put a smile on my face are...


Simple acts of kindness - such as seeing a kid donating money to a needy street busker or someone offering help to an elderly person. I also smile at life's little pleasures, like watching my orchids flower.


It breaks my heart when...


I have done everything that I can for the patient, but it is still not enough - for example, when I am unable to diagnose a tricky condition or bring about an effective treatment outcome for him.


I wouldn't trade places for the world because...


I am grateful to be in a privileged position to help others. I am also particularly blessed with a close-knit family which inspires me and lends me support in whatever I do.


My best tip...


Remember that many liver diseases, including chronic hepatitis B and C, as well as fatty liver, are silent conditions. Early treatment is important, so regular liver panel tests should be done.


Another tip, especially for those over 50 years old, is to go for colon cancer screening as these people are at a higher risk for the disease.

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