Meet Bojidar Kassabov, a Robotic Surgeon in Vienna

by Danny Nedkova & Pavel Naydenov

For Bojidar Kassabov everything began in October 1999. An agreement between Austrian and Bulgarian universities gave him the chance to study medicine in Vienna. Like all Bulgarian students at that time, he was not allowed to work, but still had to have 70.000 Schillings in a bank account to obtain a visa. This meant a process of money transfers back-and-forth from friends and small earnings from unregistered student jobs. Among other jobs, he worked in a candy shop at the airport, also selling a few bonbons of his own, as well as toy airplanes.

Specializing in urology, he met Assen Alexandrov who would become one of his best friends and later work colleague. Together they became fascinated with robotic surgery as the future of medicine.

This interest grew into his career. At this time not many hospitals owned a robot or used robotic surgery. Then he discovered that the hospital in Wiener Neustadt owned the newest generation of a one of a kind robot Da Vinci. He and Alexandrov accepted an opportunity to go work there together. The Da Vinci robot was revolutionary. With four hands, it works with great precision and diminishes the risks of surgery on open-wounds. As a result, patients are literally able to get up the next day. Since then, interest in robotic surgery has been growing rapidly and is even preferred by many patients.    

Robots to the Rescue

Bojidar Kassabov himself also became a trainer at ORSI Academy in Melle, Belgium, and was granted a trainer’s license in Austria. All the while, the practice of robotic surgery was gaining momentum, although there were still only around 10 doctors that can use Da Vinci in Vienna. Operated with a joystick and a console, the 3D maneuvers of the software are technically more intuitive for the playstation generation.

In 2019, with the support of the hospital, Kassabov and Alexandrov organised a Robotic X-mas – the first conference about robotic surgery in Austria, which presented world renowned uro-robotic surgeons conducting five live surgeries.

As an influencer in robotic surgery in Europe, Bojidar Kassabov claims that operating from a different part of the globe is already becoming a possibility. The future is here, he says.

However, in spite of the many benefits of robotic surgery, the pressure on the surgeon and the responsibility to the patient isn’t any less. So how does he deal with the stress? It’s simple, he told Metropole: Adrenaline, and music.

Wind in His Sails

Kassabov’s passion for unmapped territories extends to the sea, where he enjoys windsurfing and sailing with friends. Although, sometimes you get more than you asked for: In search of a simple sailing license in the Caribbean, he got tricked into a yachtsman’s master class, spending 8 weeks on the Atlantic to become a yacht master. So the Atlantic coastline and his beloved Greek archipelagos are his for the taking.

Music too is defining for Kassabov. Following his older brother to new wave parties still forbidden before ‘89, it was the forbidden fruit. “Back then music connected us with the world from the other side of the Iron curtain,” he remembered. Then MTV brought bands like Nirvana and the Seattle grunge, alternative rock and punk scene that he was obsessed with. “Even Cobain’s death resonated, with four copy-cat suicides in Plovdiv.”

The only magazine that was an open window to western music and culture was BTA Paraleli. “Leafing through it, I saw: Porno – Rock’n’Roll From LA – The Cramps. I was blown away,” Kassabov said. It was a rebel’s paradise! The available CDs were all pirated and young Boji and his friends went to Sofia to buy Frank Zappa, The Cure, and Brian Johnstone Massacre.

“Sofia was the ultimate in underground music in Bulgaria,” he said. He became a music “selector” in the underground clubs that emerged in Plovdiv and Sofia, playing music on cassettes, using a pen to rewind the tracks. When these venues went commercial, he stayed in the “resistance,” co-organizing “off events” at the same date and time somewhere else.

And as we talked, Frank Zappa toned on in the background – for whom no box is big enough.