A Divinely Inspired Career: A Day in the Life of Mateo Ziu, MD
Born and raised in communist Albania – a country where the government dictates your career path – Mateo Ziu, MD, says he thought accounting would be his life-long occupation.
But a chance encounter with the Catholic Church’s iconic 21st century leader, Mother Teresa, changed his life forever. It would lead him to a personal mission to take on some of the most emotionally and medically challenging cases – caring for brain cancer patients who often have very poor prognoses, sometimes only a few months to live.
Fast forward to 1989, during Ziu’s first year of college. Albania saw the fall of communism. On a mission to bring God back to her fellow countrymen, Mother Teresa opened churches, orphanages and homes for the poor. Young Ziu visited one of those churches where he later became a volunteer, interpreting for the holy sisters.
It was through this connection to the sisters, and later to Mother Teresa herself, that Ziu received an Italian visa and was selected for a scholarship to attend the University of Bari’s School of Medicine.
“I can’t imagine my life without meeting her,” he said. “I’m here because of Mother Teresa. I just hope I live up to her expectations and make her proud.”
Today, Ziu is a neurosurgical oncologist at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas. He treats patients with primary and metastatic brain and spine tumors. That means the majority of his patients receive grim prognoses.
He provides the skill, compassion and continuity of care that helps people experience the best quality of life possible for the time they have left.
Ziu says it’s through his faith and his family that he’s able to practice this type of medicine. “I know this is the job that I was meant to do. It’s extremely rewarding.”
No such thing as a set schedule
When a tumor shows up on an image, patient and family anxiety runs high, which means Ziu is used to shifting gears at the last minute.
“I can look at my schedule the night before and see I have two surgeries. But inevitably, a patient’s condition will change or worsen. An additional procedure will be added. It’s just the nature of this job. You get used to it.”
But he doesn’t do it alone. He depends on the multi-disciplinary team at the Ascension Seton Brain and Spine Institute to provide the best care possible to his patients.
He regularly huddles to discuss a patient’s case with his physician assistants, other neurosurgeons, a neuroradiologist, nurses, residents and medical students.
Cancer treatment is best if it’s delivered in an integrated way, so the entire treatment team works together to target each patient’s cancer according to their individual needs, Ziu says.
Ziu sets sights on comprehensive cancer center
It’s no coincidence that Ziu landed in Austin. He was recruited to this town to transform it into Central Texas’s cancer care hub in collaboration with The University of Texas at Austin, Central Health and LIVESTRONG.
Along with Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, this community now has the dynamic foundation it needs to build a comprehensive cancer center, according to Ziu.
“My hope is that we will build a cancer center that will allow us to deliver precise, personalized treatments designed by a diverse team of experts, working closely with local researchers, in local labs,” Ziu said. “That’s why this is home now.”