Ashton Kaidi, MD, FACS
According to my mom, I was meant to be an engineer. As a kid growing up during the space age, I was naturally fascinated with astronomy and rocketry; the moon landing filled my imagination with an insatiable desire to become involved in the field. This desire went on to manifest itself in the form of rockets and model airplanes lining nearly every inch of my childhood home’s garage. I came to pride myself on my extreme attention to detail, and many of my rockets were award-winning. Countless hours were poured into the reading of physics texts and astronomy charts in a largely fruitful attempt to develop an intuition of how exactly these things worked.
As much as I enjoyed the objective, scientific side of astronomy, I was more attracted to its subjective beauty. I loved nothing more than to look at the magnificent photographs of distant planets and galaxies taken by the Palomar telescope. Around this period, sometime in late 70’s/early 80’s, I took my first feeble steps into the field of astrophotography. I figured that it could not be too difficult - just find a way to attach a camera to the back of a telescope, and then aim it at a star. But as the time came to put this idea into practice, I encountered one difficulty after another. First was the question of how to focus on and track such dim, far-off objects. As the earth rotates, the stars move, and at the high magnifications a telescope provides, this movement is very rapid and wholly conspicuous. In those early days, I tried to manually move the telescope while operating the camera, which quickly became a circus act. Furthermore, dealing with film cameras meant I didn’t know if I had gotten a good shot until the film had already been developed. This setup was elementary and unwieldy to say the least, but it was the only means I had - the equipment that the professionals used was outrageously expensive. Needless to say, after several hours of this routine and hundreds of blurry, unrecognizable images, I gave up - at least temporarily.
Not long after my first unsuccessful foray into the field, I entered college as an astrophysics major. As a student of the sciences, I was required to take one biology course in my sophomore year, and a friend of mine convinced me to take anatomy. I found the class surprisingly interesting. The technical aspect of dissection and identification of the intricate structures of the body revealed to me a hitherto unknown allure in medicine. The human body is a magnificent machine, with multiple moving parts all perfectly coordinated and precisely timed. Thus I made a great shift in career focus, moving past my admittedly naïve attraction to astronomy to pursue a more prominent and immediate passion for medicine.
While in medical school, my aforementioned love of anatomy drew me towards surgery, and more specifically plastic surgery. In my mind, plastic surgery is the mastery of anatomy at the highest level. Plastic surgeons work on a multitude of different areas, each with a starkly different anatomy, and as one re-arranges tissue and skin, one is frequently faced with an unpredictable outcome that can be solved only with a thorough knowledge of the surrounding systems. For optimal cosmetic results, both the artistic and scientific brain must work together. The attention to detail and artistic imagination that I had cultivated during all those years of makeshift rocketry seem to have paid off in this regard.
The word “plastic” derives from the Greek plastikos, and means literally “to change or mold.” I carry this into my daily life, and hope to change the lives of others for the better, be it through my work as a physician, through my photos of the galaxy’s most distant objects, or simply through spending time with my wonderful family.
I met the Leakeys in 2009 and felt an immediate connection. They are very compassionate people and have done some great things to improve the lives of people in Kenya. After hearing stories of the potential healing effects of Marula Oil, I undertook a clinical study to evaluate its use in treating traumatized skin. The results were impressive to say the least, and it became apparent to me that Marula Oil was deserving of better recognition. For this reason, I collaborated with the Leakeys to make Marula Oil more widely available.