Profiling the Cream – Dr. Carlos Varela, PhD: The Patriotic Surgeon

If the almighty, creates people in His image, this one is His spitting image.

God goes about mending broken things. This God is a creative God. It is this God who brooded over darkness and emptiness and created light, life, beauty and delicacy.

God’s activity is also re-creative. He is the potter whose skilled and sensitive hands reshape persons and nations.

He makes and moulds professionals such as medical doctors, especially ‘the doctors with knives,’ the surgeons, to go about mending the broken and the sick.

And God made, packaged and sent Dr. Carlos Varela to the southeast nation of Malawi to mend things on His behalf.

Malawi has very few surgeons and 45 year-old Dr. Carlos Gomez Varela is one of those very few surgeons the country has.

He is as precious as the waters of Dziwe la Nkhalamba up in Mulanje and as a treasure as the hot waters of Madzimawira hotspring in Nkhotakota District.

A Surgeon who loves home: Dr. Carlos Varela.

Dr. Varela is one of a kind. Selfless, humble, hardworking, caring, compassionate and patriotic. Above all else, a man with a golden heart.

He is a doctor par excellence and to his credit, he has performed over 5000 surgeries including separating conjoined twins.

He is a General Surgeon working with the Ministry of health and population in Malawi and currently based at at Kamuzu Central Hospital, in the capital, Lilongwe.

Dr. Varela is one of dedicated and passionate surgeons that the government of Malawi banks and rely on for 24 hours a day, Seven days a week and twelve months a year the whole of the nine districts.

Here is a jolly good fella and a cream of the nation that Malawi and the rest of the world should celebrate and be proud of. He has given his life to humanity.

If you meet Dr. Carlos Varela on the streets, you would think he is just one of those merry-go-round merrymakers because he is just a simple handsome man who looks trendy and as nice as stylish man with swagga can be.

But Carlos Varela is no ordinary Joe. He is more.

When you meet him casually but smartly dressed, you would be forgiven to take him as one of those guys about town and living with his beard expertly trimmed thin and tidy to a pattern making a distinct “w” under his mouth.

With dreadlocks on, you surely would think he is one of Ras Chikomeni’s friends who does nothing other than listening to Reggae music and trying to speak the Jamaican English, Patwa and the wagwan rasta mantras.

But once you know him. Your level of respect would immediately hit the roof. He is a medical powerhouse who fixes people’s lives during surgeries and he is very good at it.

Although his name sounds more Portuguese than Malawian, Dr. Carlos Varela is a proper Malawian. His mother is from the northern part of Malawi in Mzimba District while his father hails from the country’s central midfield in Ntcheu District.

However, his ancestors might have come from the neighbouring Mozambique many eons past.

Carlos Valera is very technical guy, and since childhood, he has always has had a knack for fixing things.

Initially, he had wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon, but that dream never came true. But still, he became a doctor. Fortunately.

‘The Background’

Born on June 1976, Carlos Varela is the first born in a family of three brothers and he grew up in a family of an Agriculturalist Father and an Economist Mother.

A staunch Roman Catholic and a father of three, two girls and one boy, Carlos Valera hails from Mbirintengerenji village in Traditional Authority Champiti’s area in the central middle of the former British South east nation Malawi in Ntcheu District.

Born at the heart of Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre, Malawi he has lived in many locations in the city including Nkolokosa and Soche East when he was a toddler until the family moved to Chinyonga at the age of four years old.

Later, Carlos Valera stayed in Namiwawa, before moving further and farther south of Blantyre in Chigumula Township, where his parents live till to this date.

For him, he says, growing up was very much family-oriented and family associated and he says he grew up with an army of cousins from both paternal and maternal sides one of which is Dr. Saulos Chilima, Malawi’s sitting vice president.

Dedicated, simple, hardworking, loyal and patriotic Malawian, Carlos Varela, grew up just like any other Malawian boys in his neighbourhood; Starting with playing with moulded clay toys, like any Malawian child at that time, then wire made cars and as he grew order he became baptised into playing football.

Inspiration to be a medical profession: a talk with his father on how he could make a difference in other people’s lives. He was 16 years old then, while in secondary school, after a minor teenage mishap that changed his perception of life priorities.

‘The Gist’

Dr Carlos Varela is a really down to earth, easy going, and spontaneous when moments for fun arise, and have some humility in him.

His strongest traits include being a family man, hardworking, dedicated to his work and he is very empathetic for his patients.

But what does Dr. Varela think about successful people?

Here is what he says: “Successful people in my opinion are those who have attained their desired goals that do not only provide advantage to them alone, but also to the rest of the people surrounding them (Family, friends, and community in general.

“My philosophy of life is that every individual was given life by the Creator (God) for a purpose, but the challenge is to discover that purpose and make use of it.”

For him, success is a combination of several factors; hard work, patience, team work and team spirit with others.

Dr Varela believes that there is not such a thing as personal success, rather the best way is to refer to it to as “we have succeeded.”

That, he says, is the Ubuntu belief.

Dr Varela advises the youth to stay focused on their goals and avoid short cuts to reach the top.

“The youth should understand that in life it is important to go further as a team, not faster as an individual,” he philosophises.

‘The Problem’

There are problems in health care as they are in every area of life, but for the health care service in Malawi, Dr. Varela says as a country we we still have a long way to go. And, he is worried.

He is worried that, unfortunately, politics play a role everywhere and influences different developments, both positively and negatively.

Like any healthcare professional, Dr. Varela has work related frustrations.

He feels that Medical specialists in Malawi do not deserve the remuneration and package offered to them, and we are oftentimes taken for granted, especially those working for the state.

“I feel things could be better. Even trying to put children in good schools is a big challenge because salary and school fees has a big discrepancy,” bemoans Dr. Varela.

He says for services to improve in the health care system, he believes that it would have been easier if we let politicians do politics, and let technocrats with the knowhow of medical services improvement ideas to be let to run the health services.

To be a surgeon it’s rather very challenging, tough and needs careful sound judgement especially when on theatre table operating.

I believe all medical disciplines do overlap among each other, but most of the time in surgery we deal and sort out a lot of other complications from our colleagues, be it complications associated with child birth (Obstetrics and gynaecology), children’s conditions (Paediatrics), other medical condition (Internal Medicine) so we deal with complicated scenarios.

Malawi has very few surgeons in general, less than 1 per 100,000 people, of which 1 out of 10 of the total number of surgeons is females.

To build the numbers, there should be a creation of attractive incentives and offer more training scholarships and support for the trainees to attract doctors for specialty trainings across the different disciplines of medical practice.

The person who inspires Dr. Varela the most is not even any close to his profession, but he is brave and has a drive to help improve things for our nation. It is his first cousin, Dr SKC, Vice president of the Republic.

‘The Education’

Growing up in the opulent low density Namiwawa suburb, Varela did his primary school at Namiwawa, and then went to Phwezi Secondary School where he was elasticated while in form three and he had to finish his Form Four at Liwaladzi in Nkhotakota from where he got selected to go to Chancellor College.

“His father was not happy and the young Carlos wanted to make up for the shame he had brought upon his family, so he told his father that would become a doctor.”

He did, and his parents are now proud of him. So is the whole country.

Carlos Varela left Chancellor College and joined College of Medicine.

He says he salutes Dr. Arturo Muyco, his mentor and former head of the surgery department at KCH and his mother for inspiring him to go for further training, his mother actually offered to pay for his further training.

So, he did.

Apart from the seven years at College of Medicine, Carlos Varela did an extra five years at Groote-schuur, which is under the University of Cape Town in South Africa, under the Fellowship of College of Surgeons of South Africa.

Dr. Carlos Varela started his preschool at Chichiri Baptist nursery and thereafter moved to Kwelani nursery school on Mahatma Ghandi Street in Blantyre before attending his primary at Namiwawa primary school, which was then called Dharap primary school in Blantyre where he did his full primary school from Standard One to Standard Eight.

The young Carlos Varela never got selected to a government secondary school and therefore he went to a private secondary school, Phwezi Boys secondary school in Rumphi District from 1990 to 1993 and from there he went Liwaladzi secondary school in Nkhotakota from 1993 to 1994 where he sat for his MSCE in 1994.

Varela got selected to study Bachelor of Science at Chancellor College, University of Malawi in 1995 and he was there only for two for two years as he was was selected to go and study a Bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) at Malawi College of Medicine, University of Malawi in Blantyre in 1997, where he pursed his medical studies until the year 2001.

Varela graduated from the medical school in 2002, after which he did a medical internship at QECH from 2002 to 2003.

In January of 2004, he moved to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, where he worked as a medical officer in the department of Surgery under the supervision of the late Dr Arturo Muyco.

With the encouragement from his mother and inspiration from Dr Muyco, Dr. Carlos Valeira proceeded to do further training in medical speciality field of surgery at the University of Cape town, Groote Schuur hospital in Cape town, RSA where he stayed from 2006 to 2011.

From there, Dr. Carlos Varela graduated as a Fellow of the College of Surgeons of South Africa (FCS-SA) in 2011, and immediately came back home in January 2012, and was assigned to be head of the Surgery department at Kamuzu Central Hospital in the middle of 2012.

Earlier this year, Dr. Varela, after many years of study, received a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from University of Bergen (UiB), Norway after defending his PhD thesis successfully on the thesis of ‘Unmet Surgical need in Malawi.’

‘Professional Achievements’

In 2015 Dr. Carlos Varela became a Fellow of the College of Surgeons Of East, Central and Southern Africa (FCS-ECSA) after successfully passing the Fellowship Exam.

Dr Varela served as a the president of Surgeons Association of Malawi (SAM); from 2016 – 2017 and he is currently the COSECSA Country Representative for Malawi since 2016 to date.

Dr. Valera have mostly worked for the state hospitals in his whole medical professional career, and part time lecturing for medical profession trainees.

he has worked as a Medical Practitioner, Medical Doctor for nine years, including internship and postgraduate training. He has also worked as a junior consultant at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town for a year before returning home, and has been a General Surgery specialist for over 10 years.

Trainer of surgical specialists and undergraduate medical students for 10 years.

Trainer of Emergency medical service officers and national trainer for other Trauma courses (Basic Trauma Life Support course, and Primary Trauma Care course)

Have been abroad on exchange programmes to teach medical students overseas (Karolinska Institute, Sweden)

Currently I am an examiner for Surgery trainees under COSECSA program (College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa)

He narrates that becoming a surgeon and Head of Surgery Department in one of the busiest referral centres in the country, KCH, referral Hospital for Central region, population approximately seven million people.

Dr. Valera says that he feels great for his role in supporting and his involvement in the training of medical doctors and surgeons in Malawi as supported and pioneered in the development and training program for Emergency Medical Services in Malawi (EMS)

‘Patriotic Passion’

Carlos Varela is a patriotic who loves his country more than anything and he is very passionate about what he does, professionally.

While most of his Malawian friends he trained with in South Africa picked up jobs abroad, Carlos Varela remained loyal to the motherland, so he returned home against the luxurious prospect of doing much better beyond the borders of his country of birth.

Varela returned and as of January 2012 assumed the mantle of head of surgery and is the consultant surgeon at KCH.

Dr. Carlos Varela would have chosen to stay where he was but he felt for poor people who needed his services back home against providing his services to the rich in the foreign land who could pay him more.

For Carlos Varela, being a doctor is a calling to serve others other than just being a conduit to make money.

Poor people drive me; I decided that if there is no one for them, I would have to be the one. It is a calling.”

Approximately, Varela performs ten or more operations in a day and other than that he he does ward rounds, and his job description does not stop there: He also does administration work as in running the affairs of the hospital establishment and again, he is also a lecturer at College of Medicine.

He is a very busy man. He has very little time for himself.

Dr. Varela is always on call that such that he can be called at any hour of the day and he never really go on holiday because he cannot afford to be abroad for more than two weeks.

And, even when he is abroad, he has to keep a constant tab on his mobile phone as at all times he is needed to provide medical advise on complications.

The brain drain problem, which sees fine doctors like him trek to the United Kingdom, US or anywhere and many other medical doctors are lost to private practice right here in Malawi.

Not Dr. Carlos Varela.

‘The Talent’

Dr. Carlos Valera isn’t a boring workaholic.

He still has his weekends off, he still find time for his family: his three children; Caroline, Ashley and Hoollie do still get to go to play grounds, spends quality time with him or visit their grandparents in Blantyre.

His wife, Amanda whom he met while he was in fifth year of college still goes to bed smiling because he sometimes cooks for her.

He says is a very good cook. A talent he takes great pride in.

Dr. Varela also plays basketball, and, now and then, he enjoys a cold one with friends. He is also a fan of action thriller movies and Malawi music, so relax, not all doctors are nerdy.

As a country do we really appreciate medical doctors and in this case, our passionate surgeon Dr. Carlos Varela? does our government and leaders really know his real value?

Well, Dr. Carlos Varela needs to be celebrated while he is breathing, alive and kicking. He is an exceptional gentlest gentleman.

He is a cream of the nation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us all applaud Dr. Carlos Gomes Varela.

We thank God for Carlos. He is a fixer of God’s people.


Quotable Quote:

Here is Dr. Carlos Varela’s best and favourite quote:

“Life is not a rehearsal, life is too short, and we only live once. Spend it carefully for what it is worth.” – Unknown.

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