AFTER almost 60 years as a doctor, including 47 years as a specialist orthopaedic surgeon – a career that has taken him across the globe – Guy Rosset has retired from Whakatane Hospital.
Speaking at his Shaw Road home, Guy [pronounced Gee] says he has enjoyed his 15 years at Whakatane Hospital, where he has worked as general orthopaedic surgeon with special interest in total hip and knee replacements. He has also thoroughly enjoyed doing fortnightly clinics in Opotiki.
Teaching has been a highlight, too, he says. “Some of my responsibility was teaching medical students on elective or selective visits from universities, and junior house surgeons.”
His teaching style is practical. “I seldom gave didactic lectures to students, I did interactive work with them, so they didn’t go to sleep and we had fun learning,” he laughs.
Guy has worked at major hospitals around the world, from Africa to the Middle East, Britain and New Zealand, but says he has always championed the smaller hospitals. “For young doctors, the teaching hospitals are very big and impersonal, and they come here and they appreciate getting the attention and teaching, with numerous opportunities on the clinical side.”
Guy’s teaching also extended to nursing staff, which made him popular in theatre and his clinics. His wife, Ann, a theatre nurse, says her husband’s popularity among nursing staff was noted at his retirement event at the hospital.
Born in a remote and rural part of South Africa, Guy had quite a hardy start to his life too.
His father was born in South Africa but studied medicine in Switzerland. He managed to persuade his Swiss eye specialist wife to return with him to South Africa where they ran a Swiss missionary hospital called Elim, near the town of Louis Trichardt in the remote Limpopo region of northern South Africa.
With no schools in the area, Guy was sent off, by himself, to boarding school in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. “It took me two days to get to the school by train and bus,” he says.
When he finished school, he was all set to become a farmer, but his father persuaded him that medicine would be a good career choice. “What did I know? I only knew my parents and they were doctors so I said “okay, I will do medicine’.”
Initially it was a horrible choice, he says. “I didn’t like my studies, but I stuck to it and I only enjoyed it when I eventually found orthopaedics.”
Guy completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa in 1963 and then did his internships in Johannesburg Hospital and Baragwanath Hospital, the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere, until 1966.
He then relocated to the city of Pietermaritzburg, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, on South Africa’s east coast. He was offered a position in the orthopaedic department, which he took up at Edendale Hospital, another large African hospital. “In those days in South Africa we had different hospitals for Indians, a hospital for Africans and a hospital for whites”.
“While working in the orthopaedic department, I thought this is great, and decided I should further my studies and specialise, so took it from there and went overseas to get my higher degrees and continue training in orthopaedics.”
Between 1967 and 1971, Guy was based in Britain, where he passed his examinations at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He also worked at several hospitals, and it was at the University College Hospital in London that he did his first joint replacement in 1971.
While joint replacements are among the most common operations these days, back in the 1960s and 70s they were often not very successful in the long term.
That was until British orthopaedic surgeon (Sir) John Charnley developed and pioneered the successful total hip replacement operations in the early ‘60s. Guy says Charnley hip replacements were a game changer in hip joint replacement. The Charnley hip replacement became the gold standard, the measure of which all other hip replacements were judged at that time, he says.
“I was fortunate to be able to attend some courses with Charnley, who was an amazing fellow.”
Guy relocated back to South Africa after obtaining his higher degrees and completed his practical studies in Johannesburg. He then took up a specialist post at Edendale Hospital.
Most of his work centred on trauma and paediatrics. “My forte became corrective surgery for club feet.”
Guy went into private practice in 1975 while continuing his hospital work at Edendale and Northdale hospitals.
In partnership with three other surgeons, they were a busy and successful practice. “It was probably the biggest partnership of orthopaedic surgeons in South Africa at the time,” he says. Guy was the first surgeon in the city to perform a Charnley hip replacement, at Greys Hospital in 1976, which was a big event, he says.
“We were doing total hip replacements only in older people or people in wheelchairs and those who struggled with really bad hips. We were limited by age and disability, and it was unheard of to do a hip replacement on a young person.”
However, the “rule” was broken, says Guy, when he was approached in 1981 by a soldier who had been injured in a mine explosion during the Rhodesian (Bush)War.
“This very likeable 23-year-old came along, on crutches and in a lot of pain.” After explaining that surgeons did not perform such surgeries on young people, Guy says the young soldier insisted on the operation as the alternatives were probably worse.
“He was an interesting character because he wanted the hip I had removed. He buried this in one of the anthills that are common in Zimbabwe and where the ants cleared the bone of all the protein material. The result; a bone shell of the hip he preserved in his office.
Not fully satisfied, he managed to locate an old Charnley prosthesis and mounted that too and displayed them both on his desk.”
Guy says he has kept in touch with his patient and, amazingly, the hip replacement lasted until 2017. “He had it revised by one of my colleagues last year.”
Guy also travelled to other places, including Botswana and Lesotho, also helping with club feet and operating at the mission hospital where he was born.
Guy continued in practice until he was offered a job in Saudi Arabia in 1997. He performed no joint replacements in the six years he was in the Middle East. However, trauma was common, particularly as a result of motor vehicle accidents, and paediatric deformities and club feet were surgeries he frequently performed.
Guy and Ann, who were married in 1997, have two children, Emilie, 11, and Jean-Daniel, 17.
Their children’s passion for the stage and sport must have come from Guy, who, as a student, played rugby (under 19A at university), cricket, hockey (first team and provincial at university), water polo, competed in swimming and athletics, and enjoyed singing and amateur theatrics.
After Saudi Arabia, the couple made the move to New Zealand. Guy initially worked in Rotorua and Gisborne, before moving to Whakatane in February 2004.
Guy is still a keen tennis player, which he says he will keep up in his retirement. “I would love to get back to playing Bridge too.”
He says he is grateful to his profession for the opportunities it has given him to travel the world attending medical conferences and to keep up with practice and knowledge.
The former surgeon has been a member of several professional organisations in his field, the highlight being president of the South African Arthroplasty Society for several years.
Although he won’t be doing any more operations (Whakatane has three remaining orthopaedic surgeons), Guy says he hopes to continue with surgical clinics if they come up.
He also has his two sporting children who keep him busy, and Guy can often be seen poolside where he officiates at various swimming competitions.
Ann says she is hoping he will start a vegetable patch and get into the kitchen more, but she will give him a couple of months off, she laughs.