Only four women in Australia are interventional neurovascular specialists, trained to perform risky but lifesaving procedures on the brain, and the Gold Coast is honoured to be home to one of them.
Doctor Laetitia de Villiers says while the stakes were high, with people’s lives at risk, it was exciting to be using cutting edge technology. With incredible precision she’s able to help stroke patients by removing large blood clots from inside the brain without operating through the skull.
Of course it’s not as simple as it sounds, with Dr de Villiers and colleague Dr Hal Rice often working together using high-tech computer imaging and sophisticated clot-removing devices to access blood vessels on the brain through the femoral artery.
The medical duo, who take turns being on-call at Gold Coast University Hospital (located within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct), also use similar endovascular techniques to treat life-threatening brain aneurysms and vascular malformations in the brain.
The youngest aneurysm patient Dr de Villiers has saved was a 16-year-old and the youngest stroke victim was in their early 20s. Each and every life she saves or changes has a profound impact on her.
“There are so many patients engrained in my mind. Those that are younger you remember more, because the life-saving procedures make a bigger impact, they now have so much of their lives ahead of them,” she says.
Born in South Africa’s Cape Town, Dr de Villiers completed her medical degree there. She later moved to Australia where she specialised in radiology, a field that she believes is key to help other clinicians unlock what’s wrong with their patients.
“We have to have a very broad knowledge across this speciality, and diagnostics is very much based in pathology. Radiology is very interesting because we have to help everyone (medical specialists) find out what could be wrong with their patients,” she says.
Her impressive and long list of medical interests and qualifications includes an advanced specialist fellowship in Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology at the world famous Mt Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Together with Dr Rice, she also secured and hosted the World Federation of Interventional and Therapeutic Neuroradiology 13th world congress on the Gold Coast in 2015. An accomplished speaker and teacher, she’s also worked in the UK and spent two years as a GP in the remote rural town of Quilpie where she made lifelong friendships with locals.
The Paradise Waters local loves the lifestyle and medical fraternity on the Gold Coast, but her deep passion is using the latest equipment and scientific knowledge to achieve exciting new medical outcomes. For Dr de Villiers few things beat the exhilaration of being asked to trial new medical technologies.
“One of the great things about the Gold Coast is that we have different medical companies from across the globe coming here to ask us to trial new technologies. In fact we are part of several pivotal trials because it’s widely known that the Gold Coast is an early adopter of technology,” she says.
Dr de Villiers says another feather in the cap for the relatively young and growing city of Gold Coast is the incredible support the local government and council gives the medical community.
“I think the City of Gold Coast and Gold Coast University Hospital is trying to encourage and nurture innovation, they are all working hard to ensure the city is at the cutting edge of new developments,” she says.
“We have a huge level of support from local government and it’s really trying to showcase the level and breadth of medical talent we have on the Gold Coast, this includes the work being done at our universities.
“The world respects the work that we are doing because we get results. Companies want us to be the ones that adopt their products early so we can give feedback and help them work on improvements.
“Also, the medical fraternity is growing rapidly in line with the Gold Coast’s population and people are interested in trying to start a range of new medical services that might not have been available in the past.”
A dedicated medical professional through and through, Dr de Villiers admits she also has an active social life and enjoys travelling the world. Overseas trips have included a jaunt to South America and more recently exploring glaciers in Antarctica.
“My job is very demanding, but I really do enjoy my life outside of work and make sure the time I have off is spent well, and being on the Gold Coast does facilitate that. And because I’m water sports orientated I love being outdoors,” she says.
“It’s an exciting time to be on the Gold Coast, with the Commonwealth Games also bringing attention to the city and also credibility. It’ll also be an incredible thing for the medicine community as we’ll have to provide an entire range of services for the athletes.”