Dr Shadi Faraj tells why thyroid surgery is even safer now

Dr Shadi Faraj at Hawkesbury Hospital last week. Picture: Geoff Jones
Dr Shadi Faraj at Hawkesbury Hospital last week. Picture: Geoff Jones

Dr Shadi Faraj is only 38 but it’s taken 17 years of work and study to be a specialist in as many areas as he is. 

If you’ve got a thyroid lump or have breast cancer, you’ll be glad he’s there at Hawkesbury Hospital.

Dr Faraj came to Hawkesbury Hospital in April, 2014. He is a surgical oncologist, a breast and endocrine surgeon and a general and laparoscopic surgeon.

But he also fixes ingrown toenails, the Gazette notes from hospital literature! He laughs. “Yes, but it’s funny, those patients are often the most grateful!” he said, explaining it’s because they are in so much pain beforehand. 

Dr Faraj is Australian, born to Palestinian parents and grew up in Bankstown and Ryde. His main rooms are now in Windsor, on the corner of Macquarie and Bridge streets. 

He feels keenly the responsibility of social justice that his level of training and experience has given him. He makes it clear from the start he doesn’t charge the gap fee, and makes no distinction between private and public patients.  

He always wanted to be a surgeon, but “it’s very competitive to get into,” he said. “It’s interesting. I enjoy the variety of work. I like to be able to cure a disease process – it’s very rewarding, and cancer patients are the most in need. They need someone to listen, someone to help in what is often the worst situation of their life. You feel like you’re doing the most good. I always ask the family if they’re OK too.”

Because he emphasises treating the whole person, not just their ailment, their situations can affect him. “You think about your patients, and you develop coping mechanisms. My two daughters are my switch-off mechanism!" he said with a grin.

Dr Shadi Faraj, left, in theatre at Hawkesbury Hospital on May 17. Picture: Geoff Jones

Dr Shadi Faraj, left, in theatre at Hawkesbury Hospital on May 17. Picture: Geoff Jones

What does it take to be a good surgeon? “Well we’re all technically good as we are all accredited with the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, but nothing can replace the personal approach you give your patients.”

One of his areas of expertise has been enhanced even further by Hawkesbury Hospital’s purchase of a NIMS nerve monitoring machine, which cost 10s of 1000s of dollars.

It helps identify the nerves that control the vocal cords to ensure they don’t get nicked or cut during thyroid surgery. If one of the two nerves is cut, you will talk hoarsely the rest of your life. If both are cut, it can ultimately be fatal as you can’t prevent things going down into your lungs when you swallow. 

“I can do the operation without the NIMS but patients deserve the benefit of the technology,” he said. “It gives extra peace of mind. I want people to know that we offer this, the same as all tertiary hospitals in Australia. Patients need only to ask their GP to be treated here.”

While he said ultrasounds are now making it easier to pick up thyroid cancers, they’re still not common. So what causes thyroid cancer?

“Genetics, radiation – people at places like Chernobyl get more of it,” he said. Symptoms can be a hoarse voice, a lump, or difficulty swallowing.

He also goes to a lot of international conferences to stay on top of the latest techniques and treatments, such as the 3rd World Congress on Thyroid Cancer he is attending in Boston in July.

  • The Gazette will talk to Dr Faraj next week on his breast cancer work and the latest treatments available.