Urban Explorer: Dr Juaneta Luiz
Our Urban Explorers are extraordinary individuals from all walks of life that leave a mark wherever they tread – and Dr Juaneta Luiz is no different!
Her journey has taken her from Kerala to Gqeberha via Lusaka and Gaborone, and it is a journey of self-discovery, healing and life-changing medical research.
We caught up with the good doctor to find out how she got where she is and what lies behind her happiness and success.
Tell us a bit about your journey towards medicine and South Africa.
I was born in a state called Kerala in the south of India, and when I was one and too young to remember, we packed up and moved to Lusaka, Zambia, where my dad worked as an engineer and my mother as a teacher. At 7 years of age, just after my younger sister was born, we moved again to the small, semi-arid city of Gaborone in Botswana, where life was simple and unhurried.
I miraculously got into medicine at the University of Cape Town (with the dream of one day working with children) and moved, wide-eyed, to the biggest city I had ever lived in.
I did my internship in Pietermaritzburg full of energy (despite the lack of sleep) and community service in an extremely busy casualty ward in Gqeberha.
One night in October 2016, while I was on call, my dad had a fatal heart attack and our lives changed in so many ways. The following years were some of our toughest, with multiple medical problems, and family in three different time zones (sister in Canada and mum back in India), but our faith was strengthened beyond what we could imagine, and we received so much support and encouragement through family and friends near and far – and somehow, those years of trial brought us closest to God and became some of the most joyful (the light shines brightest in the darkness)!
You are now based at a hospital. What department are you in and what do you do?
In 2017, I landed what turned out to be my dream job working as the doctor for a tuberculosis clinical research unit, based at a paediatrics department in a government hospital which services an area with a high burden of TB, HIV and malnutrition.
Our hope is for our research work to have a widespread impact on how TB – a disease which is often difficult to detect – is diagnosed in children, and that our training and support makes a difference to the local community.
Every child we see is precious to us and perhaps one day, our research can help children for generations to come.
Why did you decide to become a doctor and go into this specific field of medicine?
I originally applied for medicine for the same reason that I think many do: "to help people"; and because it fascinated me.
As I grew in my faith, my purpose intensified. I saw the incredible beauty of the human body and realised what an amazing privilege it was to be able to meet and serve people at their most vulnerable, especially in marginalised communities.
Working with children is a double privilege – every smiling face is beautiful and brings so much joy, and children have a passion for life and a will to fight to live that we can truly learn from. I dreamt of working in a field where I could make a difference to each child but also have a wider impact on communities as a whole and this job has been perfect for that!
How important are comfortable shoes for you with your daily work duties and lifestyle?
We walk around so much, and my colleagues doing night shifts put step count apps to shame, so comfortable shoes are a non-negotiable!
How have you found the Sebago Nina Waxy slip-on loafer?
Comfortable, stylish, and practical (it’s tough to find that combination)!
I really value practicality above looks, but somehow these shoes manage it all. I love that they are closed and mould to your feet for maximum comfort, and are high-quality, durable leather.
When you’re not at the hospital, how do you spend your free time?
Plugging into my local community, taking walks by the beach (with my cute new shoes), exploring the stunning South African landscape (we really live in paradise here!), reading (theology, medicine, fantasy), playing music or singing along at the top of my voice and catching up with friends and family all over the world!
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
First of all, it helps that my job is such a joy. Even when we are busy, every cute little face, every child we see recover and learn to walk or talk, makes my day! I also don't do night shifts anymore (kudos to my friends who do!), and though I often take the research home, most of the work is exciting and satisfying.
The most helpful way for me to find balance has been in doing things that are good for the soul – humans were created to thrive on work; but also to rest. Being in nature, going on adventures, spending time with friends and family (online or in person) all help so much; but my time with God is where my true rest lies. After I lost my dad and had to drive at midnight to night shifts exhausted and in the midst of grief, one thing that satisfied my heart and gave me miraculous energy was gratitude.
Gratitude for every big and little thing we have been given, from the free gift of eternal hope to the ability to walk and talk, to see the beautiful world around us, to taste, smell and hear, to form connections with people and experience joy. A grateful heart is a joyful one. The choice is ours.
There is so much inspiration to be taken from Dr Juaneta Luiz’s story – from a genuine excitement and passion for what we do every day to remembering to rest and appreciate the simple things in life. 15
Go forth the Sebago way and be an Urban Explorer in your own way, too!
Shop Juaneta’s look with the Sebago Nina slip-on loafer.