Surgery is becoming less and less invasive and gastroenterology stands at the forefront of this progress, says Dr Melvin Look.
While the world was going nuts over shoulder pads, CD players and Keith Haring back in the ’80s, the medical world was all abuzz regarding advances in laparoscopy. Also known as keyhole surgery, it negates the need for big incisions to gain access into the abdominal cavity, so patients have significantly less post-operative pain and recovery is much quicker. It was a revolution that caught the attention of Dr Melvin Look, and it informed his decision to specialise in gastrointestinal surgery, as it was the discipline leading the charge.
His passion led him to become the first surgeon in South-east Asia to perform advanced operations such as endoscopic thyroid surgery and Swedish adjustable gastric banding, which limits food intake to treat obesity. He now serves as the director of PanAsia Surgery at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital.
For Dr Look, daytime is reserved for check-ups and consultations with patients as well as performing endoscopy, where a scope is inserted into the stomach or colon to examine it. He operates at night, after the clinic is closed, so as to concentrate on doing difficult surgery procedures undisturbed. Says the doctor: “It’s a great privilege when patients entrust their health to you. I enjoy what I do and it never seems like work, even if I have to attend to emergencies in the middle of the night.”
He explains how optical quality has improved and that there are now pill-sized cameras you can swallow to image your entire small bowel. One of his favourite devices is the Endoscopic Adjustable Intra-Gastric Balloon, which is a “great tool” to help the overweight achieve moderate weight loss with a simple, safe and reversible procedure. Says Dr Look: “The technological advances in endoscopy have been amazing this past decade.”
“It never seems like work, even if I have to attend to emergencies in the middle of the night.”
He advises: “Many chronic ailments of the digestive tract, including cancer, can be prevented by keeping a healthy weight and avoiding excessive alcohol, smoking, red meat, processed and preserved foods. “You can also prevent 90 per cent of colorectal cancers by doing a screening colonoscopy to remove precancerous polyps every five years, once you’re above the age of 50.”
At 53 years old, Dr Look knows the importance of balancing work with leisure. He tries to travel every few months and every Friday night is spent playing futsal with friends. If his schedule allows, he heads to the park for a brisk walk or a skateboarding session. It’s the same old advice, but one he won’t stop dishing out: “Eat in moderation and exercise regularly.”
Dr Look is at PanAsia Surgery, #11-15 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, 3 Mount Elizabeth, tel: 6737-8538; #10-43/44
Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, 38 Irrawaddy Road, tel: 6570-2608; and #04-03 Parkway East Medical Centre, 319 Joo Chiat Place, tel: 6346-6348.