To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on Saturday 3 December, RACS spoke to Dr Mellow about his career and how he has adapted to a slow deterioration in his mobility over the past 20 years.
Despite having a minor congenital back deformity, Dr Mellow can’t pinpoint when it was his back problems first began. Twenty years into his surgical career he had a couple of minor injuries which left him with a prolapsed spinal disc.
He seemed to recover well but over the next 3-4 years he began noticing a weakness in his legs. By the late 2000s he was using a walking stick.
It didn’t impede his work, or his positive attitude, and he continued to run his successful private practice in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand.
His mobility continued to deteriorate however and in 2012 he had spinal fusion surgery. He may have recovered well if two days later he hadn’t suffered a heart attack, leading to an extended hospital stay that got in the way of his rehabilitation.
Now Dr Mellow was using crutches.
While this may have proven a major obstacle to his work, Dr Mellow says he “adjusted relatively easily”.
“I managed to pretty much do everything”, he says, finding it possible to perform most surgeries from a chair.
That he was still operating at a high level is born out by the fact Middlemore Hospital, which he had left 10 years prior, invited him back on a part-time basis. He was still running his private practice too.
At Middlemore, Dr Mellow was part of a team to establish a ‘see and treat’ clinic designed to keep down waitlists and maximise theatre slots; an initiative that has proved successful, even continuing, albeit with reduced capacity, throughout the worst of the COVID pandemic.
Unfortunately, Dr Mellow’s health issues took a turn for the worse in 2018, when an injury resulted in the below-knee amputation of his right leg. He saw it would be difficult to retain his private credentialling from Southern Cross and closed his practice.
Despite this Dr Mellow’s capacity and enthusiasm for work remained intact, and does to this day, even though he is wheelchair-bound and a double amputee after a further operation to remove his lower left leg.
“It’s all manageable. You have to adapt and keep going. There’s no point giving up.”
He also credits “an accepting and helpful” hospital department with supporting him to continue in his profession. He says he never feels like he’s treated differently.
Some of his patients are curious though when they first meet him.
“It’s never negative. They just want to know how I came to be in a chair or for how long.”
Dr Mellow continues to work at Middlemore, as well as teaching at Auckland Medical School.
At Middlemore he mostly assesses patients and supervises registrars but he does still operate too. Following the Whakaari White Island eruption, Dr Mellow stepped onto the theatre list to free up the registrars to focus on the burns victims.
He enjoys working at the medical school as well.
“I missed teaching in private practice. It’s great to get back to training. I like seeing [students and registrars] succeed and passing on my knowledge.”