This is a milestone year for thoracic surgeon Dr. Joseph Ojah. Working with Surrey’s thoracic surgery team, he’s learned how to remove part of a lung through a single incision that can be covered by a large band-aid.

Dr. Ojah has also participated in a research project to develop a new mobile app that will help thoracic surgeons around the world learn how to perform minimally invasive esophagectomy, a highly specialized procedure for cancer of the esophagus.

It’s all part of his clinical fellowship in minimally invasive thoracic (chest) surgery – a unique opportunity to spend the last year of his thoracic surgery training working with the team from the Fraser Health Thoracic Surgery Program.

This is also a milestone year for the program. Surrey Memorial Hospital is now the first and only centre in the country to offer this highly specialized fellowship.

The new fellowship was made possible by a donation from Johnson and Johnson. Thanks to an additional $2 million in community support from Surrey Hospital & Outpatient Centre Foundation, Dr. Ojah is also able to use the latest in thoracic surgery technology and learn how to perform some of the innovative new procedures now available for patients from across Fraser Health.

Since last July, he has been a familiar face at Surrey Memorial Hospital: caring for thoracic patients; performing surgery; working on research projects; and generally taking advantage of the opportunity to soak up knowledge from the experienced thoracic team.

“They are all excellent teachers,” he says. “They explain well, they teach well, they let me operate with supervision, and they provide pearls of clinical information.”

One of the highlights for Dr. Ojah has been the opportunity to be part of the first “single-port” lung surgery performed in Western Canada. Led by Dr. Ahmad Ashrafi, this new technique makes it possible to remove part of a lung using only one small incision rather than several.

Research and innovation, such as the project to create the teaching app, is a critical part of the fellowship experience, Dr. Ojah notes.

“A lot of the research arises from the innovative spirit here and all the new technology that the team has been able to obtain,” he says. “It’s going to be the germination point for lots of exciting research that will come from this group.”

After more than 13 years of education and specialized training, Dr. Ojah is looking forward to becoming a practising thoracic surgeon, preferably somewhere in Canada.

“This is what I have been accelerating towards – I want to ultimately help patients and families, looking after them safely and getting them back to their lives.”

He is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

Photo: Dr. Joseph Ojah in the Operating Room with Dr. Ahmad Ashrafi