A legacy of changed lives

Posted on 14 November 2019

Building a legacy in a country that has enormous health challenges is not always easy for doctors in the private sector. But specialists within Mediclinic are opening their hearts to patients across the country, as part of a series of pro bono surgeries being performed in partnership with provincial health. The principle is that Mediclinic can relieve the pressure on key waiting lists by providing spare theatre capacity and nursing care while doctors practicing in the hospitals provide their expertise in surgery or anaesthesia.

By November 2019, nearly 400 patients have been touched by these collaborations and we asked some of the participating doctors where they draw inspiration. Many of the surgery initiatives have been driven by the doctors, where Mediclinic has come on board to support the relationship and need.

Dr Muhammed Essa, an ENT surgeon based at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg, believes that his passion grew during his time at Greys Hospital where he worked between 2008 to 2014. Inspired by people like Bill Gates, he saw others giving away large portions of wealth to uplift others. “I realised that I have something to give – my time, effort and skills. Hence my drive support programmes like this,” he says. “I must acknowledge my professors at UCT / Groote Schuur Hospital, Professors Johan Fagan and Chris Prescott, who instilled the desire in all of their students to continue improving and to always give back.”

“I was fortunate to work at Greys Hospital as Head of ENT. The sheer volume of patients became overwhelming at times and a desperate need arose to increase services. This was severely hampered by the limitations that affected state hospitals. Over time I migrated into private practice but maintained my affiliation to the ENT unit and still continue supporting the unit with Head and Neck cancer surgery on a regular basis,” Essa explains. “Although we have managed to gain some control of the waiting lists for cancer patients, the less thought of, tonsils and adenoid lists began escalating. Over the years I would get sponsorships from various local businesses, do the odd adeno-tonsillectomy in private, but this did not seem to change the waiting lists significantly.”

For Dr Steve Steyn, an ophthalmologist based at Mediclinic Welkom and Mediclinic Stellenbosch the opportunity to change lives presented as an opportunity to perform cataract surgeries. In Welkom

20 elderly patients all received the gift of improved sight in one morning. Dr Steyn diligently worked through each of the patients to restore sight where it had been affected by cataracts. The stories emerging were so inspiring. Being able to be a care giver to a loved one again. Being able to work for a living instead of being reliant on a family member. A level of independence brought back to an individual. These are the reasons our doctors volunteer their time. Dr Steyn performed an additional 48 surgeries in Stellenbosch and Welkom during October to further contribute to reducing the waiting lists.

Dr Sharan Naidoo is working pure miracles on little faces at Mediclinic Midstream. Dr Naidoo is a maxillofacial surgeon contributing with cleft lip and palate surgeries on paediatric patients. “My interest in cleft surgery was ignited way back in 2008 after being exposed to cleft surgery, and realising what a profound effect it has on these individuals lives – offering them the opportunity to integrate into society and live normal lives,” he explains. In the role of Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria, Department of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery, he has been involved in the public sector since 2013, but in 2015 he was promoted to Head Clinical Unit – Facial Cleft Deformity Clinic – where he still performs work for the clinic on a part time basis.

But what is it that drives the dedication to these causes? It seems that the close experience with the public sector has instilled a deep sense of making a difference. Dr Steyn worked at Tygerberg Hospital for ten years, and says he understands the need to help. The public service has severe challenges with many elective cases being replaced by emergency cases in theatre.

Dr Naidoo also believes that the public is under immense pressure to cater for the large numbers. “With a considerable lack of capacity these public patients are placed on waiting lists resulting in significant delays in being treated. In cleft surgery, this translates to surgery being performed outside of protocol and may result in unfavourable outcomes. The private sector partnership allows us to alleviate this burden in collaboration with the public sector.”

For Dr Essa these surgeries signify something even greater. “The recent project really unleashed the potential energy that lies dormant in the private sector … the doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff rose well and above their calling to provide a service without any compromise and equitable to the best out there. The innate nature of the field of medicine is to outstretch a helping hand, and this was personified within the outreach programme.” His passion seems to infect all those around the doctor, bringing anaesthetists, paediatricians and other supporting services on board.

Dr Essa concludes with very strong words, “I will only consider this project a success when we have achieved a positive trusting relationship between private and public facilities;  when spare capacity is harvested and focused on delivering aid where needed; when fellow colleagues pick up the baton and reproduce such programmes in their own centres. Collectively this would revolutionise the way we perceive outreach programmes, when corporate offices join hands in rolling out such programmes at their facilities…the potential is there, I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it.”

Published in CSI