AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of the people traveling next week to meet Pope Francis is one of Austin’s most renowned brain and spinal neurosurgeons, Dr. Mateo Ziu. The Albanian born doctor has lived a remarkable life, inspired to do his challenging work by another religious icon. Dr. Ziu was just a teenager when the communists finished ravaging Albania and fled. A small woman with an enormous heart helped restore the faith there, Mother Teresa. She took the doctor under her angel’s wing and eventually made his medical education possible.
Working out of the Seton Brain and Spinal Institute, the doctor does surgery now on only the most dire and difficult cases. He says, “When they are diagnosed with a brain tumor it is one of the most daunting diagnosis one can have. The satisfaction is as long as I can allow my patient to live with their family as long as they can, that is my satisfaction.”
Mateo Ziu was inspired and drawn to his faith and medicine after meeting Mother Teresa as she worked to restore the church in Albania. He remembers, “I had two good friends who knew about her coming to Albania and the first Mass celebrated in this open old church, it had been demolished by the communists. So that’s how I went there and was very inspired to hear her talk. Since I became one of the volunteers with the sisters I got to meet her and sometimes translate when she was talking to people around her.”
And what was she like? “It’s very hard to describe because it’s something you feel. She was a small little lady, smiling, saying jokes, but short. She knew what she wanted.” He adds, “When I think back I kind of felt like God was present in her. That’s what attracts you, like a magnet. It grows on you.”
They became close and Mateo remembers her asking him an important question. “She said why don’t you become a priest with me. I said I would like to become a physician to help everybody. She said okay, don’t worry.” But he wondered how he could possibly obtain a medical education. Then one day he received a scholarship from Catholic Charities to a university in Italy. He smiles, “It happened somehow, I don’t know, because she never told me.”
After a time at M. D. Anderson in Houston, Dr. Ziu came to Austin two years ago, lured in part by the coming medical school here. Inspired by Mother Teresa he has become a top notch surgeon in his field, and now he is about to meet the pope. What does he expect? “To me Pope Francis is very close to what Mother Teresa was. Being very open and talking to everybody. Bringing the word of God in a simple way, to everybody.”
Dr. Ziu says, “I am here in this place now especially because Mother Teresa helped me get here. Through her ways I think I’m here to do God’s work, in one way or another.” The doctor leaves Wednesday for Washington, will meet the pope Thursday and fly home that same night. He says he has to. He has work to do back home.