Meet the young star of the N&N’s talented team
He's a man of many talents, but as Rachel Buller discovered, Italian plastic surgeon Andrea Figus is single-minded in his ambition to attain the highest standards at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
Andrea Figus is passionate about Italy.
Whether it is the food, the climate, the football or the lifestyle, a little bit of his heart is clearly in his beloved Sardinia. But with his first baby due any day and a burgeoning career in medicine in Norfolk, he says he is extremely happy having Norwich as his home.
The decision to appoint the Italian doctor to the renowned plastic surgery team at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital three years ago is indicative of the unit's ambitions and success.
He became one of the youngest NHS consultant plastic surgeons in the UK and Andrea believes it was a gamble to give him the job.
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'I was 34-years-old, English was not my first language, I was not fully trained in England and I didn't know anyone personally at the N&N. I think they took a very big gamble. We are one of the youngest teams in the UK, but all of us have a good reputation and strong CVs and we all have a good view to innovate and think forward. It really is a great team.'
Since arriving, his Italian good looks, charm and enthusiasm have not gone unnoticed among his patients.
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'My ladies,' he laughs with a sigh. 'All my ladies are marvellous.
'Seriously, though, it was hard coming here initially, I felt a lot of pressure. I was young and didn't speak great English; it was hard to be taken seriously. The beard helps,' he laughs, stroking it. 'I think so anyway – that's why I keep it.'
But medicine has not always been Andrea's first love.
For a long time, he juggled studying medicine with playing professional football – playing for his home team in Cagliari, currently in Serie A, and among his contemporaries were Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero.
He is reluctant, and perhaps a little embarrassed, to talk at length about those times, but the glint in his eye suggests that football will always have a special place in his heart.
'I have to tell you, I really wanted to be a footballer,' he says almost apologetically. 'I was a professional footballer for Cagliari, but I wasn't some millionaire by any means, far far from it. But getting paid to play the game I love was enough.'
His parents were happy for him to be a footballer, but he says: 'They reminded me I could choose what I wanted to do, but that I had to go to university.
'I always thought I wanted to get a degree, to be somebody other than just a footballer. I didn't want to be considered ignorant, which is what a lot of people think about footballers.
'I was trying to do both – the medicine and the football. I was focused on both, but it was hard. My professor understood that there was something else I did which I was also passionate about. He was very good; he would change the on-call rota and try to be more flexible.'
His father was a doctor, and also specialised in plastic surgery, but Andrea says he advised him against following a career in medicine.
'He always told me not to. But in my head I thought I could do medicine and sport by maybe being in orthopaedics. I could see my career in football was not going down the millionaire route, so I felt I could try to do something else full time. When I was in my third year, I knew I wanted to do surgery. It is a more practical thing. We find the problem and we try to sort it straight away, immediately. I like that. When you are a surgeon you rely on your skills. When you are in football you have to rely on your skills – but a lot of other people and things around you, like managers, can also interfere with that. When you are a surgeon you really are out on your own, it is very pure. If you are not able to do it, you can't lie and fake it. In two seconds your colleagues will find out.'
Two months before arriving in Norwich to start his new job, Andrea met his wife, Eva, back in Sardinia. He admits she initially didn't want to get involved with him because he was leaving for England. 'She refused to come. Now she is living here and we are having our first baby. In the first six months, I don't think she was so happy – she said she hated it. I wanted to try and speak English but she refused to speak English to me at home ever,' he says with a shake of his head and a smile.' Now, we are very happy.'
Since arriving at the N&N, he has become an integral part of the team.
'The treatment we are offering at the moment is among the best. We are a very unified team, when something new comes we want to try it.
'We want to make the hospital as good as or better than other big hospitals in the world.'
He said that dealing with reconstruction after breast cancer was a complex matter as it was dependant on so many factors regarding the disease.
'The good thing here is that we can offer every single type of operation. I like to have a minimum of two consultations first, to make sure we find the right operation and reconstruction.'
He and Eva go back to Sardinia regularly, especially during the summer, but he says he is feeling really settled in Norfolk. 'I think the local countryside is beautiful. I love all the fields, and we have lots of walks together – I really think I should go to the coast more. But if you imagine me, in Sardinia if it is 15 degrees I think that is cold. When it is 15 degrees here, people say, 'look, it's an amazing day',' he laughs.
Just as we stand up to leave, Andrea reminds me modestly that football was only a tiny bit of his life from the past, and he adds with a grin: 'I am more proud that I was a singer in a band than a footballer.'
When pushed on this sudden revelation, he reveals that in Italy, his band were on the brink of big things before they decided to call it quits to focus on their careers.
The band was called Minimo Storico – meaning historical minimum.
'It was because we were very bad. You know, we thought there was nothing worse than us, we were the minimum. But we got from that to being pretty good. What I was most proud of was creating something from nothing. When we find each other in Sardinia again maybe we will have a small concert.'